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CSS Menus and 508 Accessibility Compliant

Jul 8, 2008
The Section 508 federal U.S. mandate requires web developers to create alternative means of viewing content on websites so that people with disabilities can also experience it. When compliant with 508, web content also becomes more available to all users including those using mobile devices, laptops, voice browsers etc. Therefore, while 508 compliance is something every company needs to be working towards by law, it also affords the same businesses certain benefits that are applicable to not only users with disabilities but to all potential users.

The use of certain types of content on a website makes it difficult or impossible for people without sight or the ability to read, for example, to comprehend the given content expressed.

World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Guidelines and Levels of Compliance

The W3C has been tasked with establishing levels of Section 508 compliance based on the regulations set forth in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

It is not always easy to retro-engineer existing software to comply with Section 508 regulations. The W3C - an impartial group of web and Internet authorities. To help companies work towards compliance sequentially rather than all at once, the W3C has broken the law into three priority levels: A, AA and AAA.

Levels of 508 Compliance:

Priority 1, Level A: Provide content that, when presented to the user, conveys essentially the same function or purpose as auditory or visual content. This guideline emphasizes the importance of providing text equivalents of non-text content (images, pre-recorded audio, video). (text from the mandate itself)

Priority 2, Level AA: Ensure that text and graphics are understandable when viewed without color and that all information conveyed with color is also available without color, for example from context or markup. (text from the mandate itself)

Priority 3, Level AAA: Mark up documents with the proper structural elements. Control presentation with style sheets rather than with presentation elements and attributes. Use style sheets to control layout and presentation. (text from the mandate itself)

Validation of CSS Menu Compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act

There are several validation tools available to software developers to determine if their products are compliant with 508 standards. Pluginlab employed several validation methodologies to ensure the highest level of 508 regulation compliance. These include:

Cynthia Says by Highsoftware is a premium validation tool for 508 compliance. The software detects inconsistencies between site content and Section 508 standards. Pluginlab passed this validation test with zero errors at levels A, AA, and AAA - validating that Pluginlab CSS menus comply with all accessibility ratings.

WAVE by WebAim is used to assist developers and designers in the creation of software with AAA level 508 compliance. All Pluginlab modules passed without error at level AAA compliance, putting it in a singular class of software.

Site Valet by WebThing provides diagnostics for forms, scripts, HTTP, mark-up analysis and processing, HTML, XML, EARL, Link Checking and spell checking. All Pluginlab modules passed validation with zero errors at levels A, AA and AAA. Once again, a third validation that Pluginlab CSS Menu Modules simplify compliance with 508 regulations.

CSS menus in particular are becoming a primary means of navigating a website's many pages and thus are a key component in 508 compliance. CSS menus that provide the necessary support should include such features as keyboard-only support, voice and text reader support and so on. In turn, this level of compliance will also help with search engine optimization of site pages containing CSS menus.
About the Author
Ethan Kaufman a developer at PluginLab with over 7 years experience in developing standards compliant websites. His expertise are Web Site Navigation and CSS Menus scripts.
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