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508 Compliance – ICT Refresh 2017: Final Rule Posted

For the past year, we have reported on the forthcoming update to 508 compliance standards. On January 9th, 2017 the final rule was officially posted to the Federal Register. The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) standards and guidelines refresh is intended to improve on the existing framework of 508 compliance law, updating the rules to match changes in industry trends and technology. Our team contributed to the public commentary as the rule-making process has unfolded, and we are glad to see that the new rules have now been posted.

International Standards

References to WCAG 2.0 have been added to the 508 compliance guidelines, providing more specific criteria, and the benefit of internationally recognized compliance norms. To be clear, the ICT refresh does not throw out the previous standards of 508 compliance. The access board chose to build upon the existing 508 compliance regulations, without starting from scratch. It will take some time to explore all the specific changes of the new guidelines, but in general the refresh has clarified some major issues, and expanded on areas that were not covered by the previous law.

To view the WCAG 2.0 conformance standards click here

Embracing New 508 Compliance Laws

As stated on the Access Board Website, “The final rule jointly updates and reorganizes the Section 508 standards and Section 255 guidelines in response to market trends and innovations, such as the convergence of technologies. The refresh also harmonizes these requirements with other guidelines and standards both in the U.S. and abroad, including standards issued by the European Commission and with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a globally recognized voluntary consensus standard for web content and ICT.”

The new rules go into effect in one year. Vendors, agencies, and businesses must now begin to take a look at the changes, and update their compliance strategies and workflow. Our team is committed to helping people stay up to date with changing regulations. Please share your thoughts with us in a comment, or contact us directly for information on how we can help your team achieve and maintain compliance.




508 Refresh – Public Comments Closed: Our Contribution

The time for public comments before the US Access Board regarding the 508 Refresh has passed. Word Wizards (WW) submitted our own comments in support of 508 accessible transcripts as a viable alternative to prerecorded material, in order to provide increased access for deaf and hard of hearing, as well as blind and low vision persons. You can find the full text of our public comments to US Access Board via this link.

Graphic for section 508 compliance

508 Transcript as Prerecorded Media Alternative

508 transcripts provide access for people with disabilities, at lower cost and with quicker turnaround time than traditional Closed Captioning (CC) and Audio Description (AD) in some instances. In those instances, they can be deemed as good, or better under the concept of equivalent facilitation, recognized by the existing 508 law and pending 2015 refresh. We intend that they be used by agencies and their video production departments, when the traditional alternatives of CC or AD are either too expensive, or are not feasible for technical reasons.

The Access Board has announced that current accepted international standards will be incorporated by reference into the updated 508 rules. These standards, referred to as WCAG 2.0, specifically mentions media alternatives for prerecorded material, which include 508 compliant transcripts, at section 1.2.3. Here are two case histories where 508 transcripts provided more access for less money than traditional CC or AD.

Case Study No. 1 – Fast and Affordable

In early 2014, a client asked us for help achieving 508 compliance for a video, with a rapid turnaround deadline and a low budget. The client had only two days and a minuscule budget to produce the video and provide access using AD. We suggested a 508 complaint transcript as an alternative. The end product was a fully compliant PDF document, with all nonverbal elements described in the body of the transcript. This PDF was remediated to make it compliant and accessible to screen readers for the Blind and Low Vision people. By including all visual material in the document, we were able to satisfy the requirement of WCAG 2.0 – Section 1.2.3 to convey all visual information.

Road runner cartoon.

 

The document was produced for half the cost of standard AD, because there is no need for a media specialist to record and mix audio content into the source video. In this case, budget and speed were the client’s priorities -and a 508 compliant transcript did the job twice as fast, at half of the cost.

Case Study No. 2 – Complex Visual Accessibility

In instances of highly complex video content, 508 transcripts provide a level of visual description otherwise impossible with conventional AD. In the summer of 2014, WW used a 508 transcript to assist a client who was working on a high-profile Federal investigation. During this sensitive inquiry, a video presentation was created to summarize the findings of the agency’s investigation. The video was long and visually elaborate, consisting of different camera feeds spliced together, views with multiple screens simultaneously, and an uninterrupted audio track blended from several sources.

classified material.

Given the intricacies of the mixed media, conventional AD was not feasible. The audio content had no pauses, thus making it impossible to place Audio Description content within the existing audio track. At the final stages of this investigation, a concerned family member, who was blind, insisted on receiving an accessible version of the video in order to fully understand what had happened in the case. We suggested a 508 compliant transcript to provide complete accessibility.

Conclusion

As the Access Board prepares to refresh the standards by which Section 508 compliance will be evaluated, we encouraged inclusion of 508 transcripts as a viable option in appropriate circumstances. When budgets are constrained, rapid turnaround is required, and/or visual information is highly complex, 508 transcripts fulfill real and significant needs.

Existing 508 regulations and the pending 2015 Refresh, recognizes the need to reduce undue burden on the agencies by permitting the use of media alternatives which are as good as, or better, than conventional means at achieving accessibility for people with disabilities. These comments were submitted in order to bring our actual experience to the attention of the accessibility and video production communities. As long as the international standards of WCAG 2.0 are incorporated by reference into the 2015 Refresh,  508 compliant transcripts will be included on the list of acceptable media alternatives (for prerecorded content).




Media Accessibility – 508 Compliant Transcript

Word Wizards is continuing our coverage of The United States Access Board’s 508 refresh. These rules and standards set the accessibility compliance requirements for electronic publications procured by the federal government, including web sites, video assets, and mixed media productions. For video assets, the current 508 compliant standard for accessibility requires closed captioning, and audible description for persons with visual disabilities. During the 508 refresh we hope to add a third option to enable more video assets to meet 508 standards without adding undue burden to agencies and applicable vendors. Before we address our alternative we have provided a brief overview of CC and AD requirements for 508.

Accesibility for all!

Closed Captioning

The guidelines for Closed Captioning to achieve 508 compliance are clear and straightforward. All information conveyed in audio format must be provided in the captions. When speakers are off screen or multiple parties are present, clear distinction must be made in the text. The captions must not obscure faces or cover on-screen text. Each caption must appear in sync with the audio of the video, so that persons with auditory disabilities can get the full experience of the media. Closed captions are required for all video material subject to section 508 regulations. Closed Caption Logo

Audible Description

When required, audible descriptive material must be added to video content to convey visual information to non-sighted users. The process involves taking the original media and recording additional audio content to provide access to information for person’s with visual disabilities. For entertainment purposes, the audible description track must be mixed in between pauses in the relevant audio of the video. For more flexible video content, the video can be paused to include longer explanations of visual material. Audible description is not currently required for all video content, but the 508 refresh plans to increase the amount of AD required by law.

Audio Description

508 Accessible Transcript – An Alternative

Word Wizards has developed an alternative to provide media accessibility for both deaf and blind users. We can produce a transcript in accessible PDF format that conveys audible and visual material. All spoken material and relevant sounds are captured in a standard transcript. We then add specific verbal descriptions of the visual content within the text. We then remediate the document for 508 compliance, allowing it to be fully functional with standard screen reading technology. In this final form, a deaf user can read the auditory information, and a blind user can use a screen reader. Thus we satisfy both aspects of compliance for videos, in one self-contained asset.

The New Game in Town

The 508 accessible transcript is a relatively unknown deliverable, but is included in the WCAG 2.0 regulations being used as the framework for the 508 refresh. Word Wizards has submitted public comments that review the merits of “Media Alternative (Prerecorded)”, as it is known in WCAG 2.0. 508 transcripts can be produced for a fraction of the cost of captioning and audio description. Instead of weeks, it can be done in days, cutting production timelines in half, while saving substantial financial resources. While it may never replace closed captions and audible descriptions as the gold standard, it enables agencies and content providers a faster and more affordable way of providing access for media assets.