ADA and 508 Accessibility: Comparing Two Standards

Both Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (508) and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are made up of laws and guidelines requiring information to be made available to all members of the public, regardless of sensory disabilities. Closed Captioning (CC),  Audio Description (AD), and accessible digital publication technology (508 remediation), are the gold standard for providing media that is fully accessible and compliant with both these regulatory standards.

Section 508

 

508 compliance logo.

 

508 requires that accommodations be made for government employees and members of the public with disabilities who wish to access Government Information and Communications Technology (ICT), including Government websites and multimedia. 508 compliance is overseen by the U. S. Access Board, an independent agency under HHS, which promotes equality for people with disabilities through leadership in accessible design and the development of accessibility guidelines and standards. During 2015 the Access Board has conducted requests for public comments related to the accessibility rules and guidelines in their efforts to institute a “508 refresh” or update to the 508 accessibility requirements. Word Wizards has submitted comments, including our revelations about new ways to achieve accessibility of ICT through the use of 508 Compliant Transcripts.

Read more about our comments here

The Americans with Disabilities Act

 

ADA 25 years logo

 

Signed into law 25 years ago by President George H.W. Bush, the ADA derives authority from the primary Federal civil rights law, the Commerce Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and as such is overseen by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. The ADA is a broader application of accessibility standards to influence commercial and social practices related to persons with disabilities. Title III of the ADA requires that businesses, state and local governments and nonprofit services providers make accommodations for the disabled public to access the same services as patrons who are not disabled. Movie theaters, digital media, websites, and ICT are required to be accessible to people with disabilities.

Evolving standards

In one recent case (NAD v Netflix) the Western Mass. Circuit Court held that even though Netflix was based solely on the internet, they had to offer captioned movies for their “watch instantly” streaming service, because they were dominant in interstate commerce, with 60% of the available market. That case was settled out of court with Netflix agreeing to caption everything going forward. However another jurisdiction, the federal appeals court (9th Circuit), ruled in a class action suit that the ADA doesn’t apply to Netflix, since the online video provider is, “not connected to any actual, physical place.” Never-the-less, the trend is towards more accessibility in services offered to the public rather than less, including film and video.

 

Accesibility graphic, keyboard with blue "Access" key.

Comparing 508 and ADA

Ultimately, ADA protects the civil rights of persons with disabilities participating in interstate commerce; whereas Section 508 is a set of regulations related to access to Government ICT. 508 compliance provides accessibility for digitally published material within government agencies and entities. ADA standards apply broadly to society, commerce, and government as a whole. A comparison of 508 and ADA regulations reveals a trend of increasing complexity of accessible media technology. Word Wizards mission is to serve the needs of an evolving industry as the number of people with sensory disabilities in our society continues to grow.




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.




The ONLY I.T.A.R. Compliant Transcription Company

When it comes to a project of a sensitive nature, be it legal, militaristic, classified, or otherwise not intended for unauthorized eyes, who are you going to trust? Now, we are not trying to put down firms who have chosen to enter the transcription industry utilizing offshore labor, in fact we capitalists respect and encourage the process of international competition. However, just ask yourself, when push comes to shove, who are you going to trust with your sensitive media? Unknown, untested, and uncertified offshore options, or the only transcription company in the world (Word Wizards) that fits the qualifications for the U.S. State Department’s stamp of approval.

U.S. State Department - DDTC Logo

Compliance with I.T.A.R. (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) does not come easy. This certification, issued by the U.S. State Department, is generally intended for organizations involved with international arms and military applications. When filing for this certification, we laughed as we checked the “other” category to describe our services, other is located somewhere between nuclear warhead production and experimental particle beam weapon research.

Trust But Verify

What transcription compamny do you trust?

Why would a transcription company choose to get I.T.A.R. compliance? In a global economy, our organization now faces extreme pressure from international competition. One of the stipulations of I.T.A.R. compliance is a strict “on shore” policy for work performed due to the often sensitive military nature of the content of these projects. Well, it appears that our modest U.S.A based transcription company is one of the last of its kind. Yes,  our short term profits may have suffered slightly when the economy tanked and clients explored cheaper, lower quality, offshore transcription options. However, our commitment to providing premium quality transcription services and maintaining a workforce of well paying American jobs has paid off once again.

Why are there no other I.T.A.R. compliant transcription companies, simply because nobody else in the world qualifies.




Section 508 Compliance Survey

Last week at the 2012 IDEAS conference, Word Wizards conducted a survey to get a better understanding of what the experts think about the difference between compliance and accessibility. We invite you to participate in this survey and share your opinion about this hot ticket issue. Once all of the results are in, we will publish our findings on this blog for everyone to look at. The goal of this survey is to establish a certain consensus about important issues when making PDF documents accessible and compliant with the section 508 law. Word Wizards would like to extend our thanks to all those we met last week and everyone who made the 2012 IDEAS conference a fully accessible success.

Our booth at IDEAS with poster about section 508 compliance and conference materials.
Word Wizards' Booth at 2012 IDEAS



IDEAS Accessibility Conference – Recap

Logo for the Interagency Disability Educational Awareness Showcase (IDEAS) in Washington DC hosted by USDA
Interagency Disability Educational Awareness Showcase Logo

On behalf of Word Wizards, Inc. I would like to thank our friends at USDA for hosting this year’s Interagency Disability Educational Awareness Showcase. It was our first year attending as an exhibitor and we took full advantage of this opportunity to demonstrate our accessibility services. The focus of our exhibit took the form of a simple question that yielded not so simple answers, “Is there a difference between compliance and accessibility?”

Word Wizards Table at the 2012 IDEAS Conference
Word Wizards Table at the 2012 IDEAS Conference

The following individuals gave presentations this year at the conference:

Kareem Dale, Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy
Dinah Cohen, Director, Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP), U.S. Department of Defense
David M. Capozzi, Executive Director, U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board).
Tim Creagan, Senior Accessibility Specialist, U.S. Access Board.
Alison S. Levy, Departmental Disability Employment Program Manager, U.S. Department of Agriculture

We were delighted to share the floor with our fellow accessibility vendors and do some valuable networking with our peers, friendly competitors, and section 508 coordinators. IDEAS is the perfect opportunity to see whats on the forefront of accessibility services and technology. Section 508 compliance regulations may soon be getting a facelift, as agencies attempt to standardize compliance policy across the Federal space.

IDEAS conference floor as vendors 508 coordinators and interested individuals check out the available displays.
Floor of the 2012 IDEAS conference

Section 508 compliance is more than just another service for our organization, it is a critical aspect of our mission to provide more access for disabled individuals on the internet. We look forward to analyzing the results of our compliance vs accessibility survey and publishing them for all to review. Remember, the business of section 508 compliance and all disabilities services is about people, real people with real problems need real solutions, bottom line.




Section 508 Compliance – Gearing up for IDEAS

Word Wizards is gearing up for next week’s Interagency Disability Educational Awareness Showcase (IDEAS). Our organization has developed a broad expertise helping entities achieve section 508 compliance for their documents, videos and interactive forms. After being awarded a GSA contract on the A.I.M.S. schedule earlier this summer, Word Wizards hopes to access wide new markets for section 508 compliance remediation. As mentioned in our previous article, we are honored to host an exhibit during this year’s IDEAS accessibility conference.

Logo for the 2012 IDEAS conference

Word Wizards presents…

For this year’s section 508 accessibility remediation exhibit, we are pulling out all the stops! We are putting together a serious of materials to identify some of the key issues that contractors must manage when conducting a remediation to achieve 508 compliance. Furthermore, we are highlighting the issues that have come about as this industry attempts to standardize its processes. In addition, we will have working examples of our closed captioning services, audio description capabilities, and screen reading technology for people to explore.

Accessibility for clients and conference attendees alike!

Word Wizards has been working closely with our new partners at Braille Works to provide fully accessible conference materials in the form of braille hand outs for attendees. It is the first time we will be providing conference materials in braille, which will allow us to inform the large amount of conference goers that are visually impaired. We are committed to making the internet a more accessible place, and thus we find ourselves in a position to raise awareness about section 508 compliance and digital accessibility technology. It is the perfect platform to host a discussion about the constant evolution of standards and expectations surrounding the hot ticket issue.

Graphic for section 508 compliance

Evolving Standards:

We will be conducting a survey to identify the most important issues people come across when using screen reading technology. Visit our table and you can participate in this survey and sign up to receive an extensive analysis of what people are saying about the difference between section 508 compliance and practical accessibility from a user standpoint. We think this will allow us to further refine the industry standard method of remediation, and provide a forum to let people share their opinions about what makes a document truly accessible to those with disabilities.

We look forward to seeing you there, and if you cant make it, use our Contact Us page to request a copy of our newsletter which will contain the results of our analysis of this survey.