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Section 508 Reference Guide
Tools to Evaluate Section 508 Compliance

Overview

First, let us distinguish AT from tools that are designed to evaluate products for compliance with Section 508 accessibility standards. AT products are specifically designed to provide accessibility, not to serve as evaluation tools.

For example, screen reader software is designed to speak the information that would normally appear on a computer screen. Some screen readers do an admirable job of testing for compliance as they read the screen, but they should not be considered the "gold standard" for determining compliance. If a screen reader can read a page of an application correctly, this does not imply that the page is compliant. (Case in point: most screen readers will not detect color or blinking user interface elements.) Similarly, if the screen reader cannot read the page, this does not necessarily imply that the page is noncompliant.

Second, let us discuss the technicians who are performing the tests. Since the outcome of an evaluation could have a profound impact on the agency, each tester must be highly proficient with the evaluation tools. However, some evaluation tools are difficult to master. (One company admitted that their product was not easy to master and called it "software with an attitude".) The difficulty is compounded when more than one technician or more than one tool is required to ensure compliance.

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Example

To illustrate these points, two web pages were examined with three web testing tools and with two screen readers. Here is a summary of the results.

Number of Section 508 errors found
Web Page Feature Product A
Test Tool
Product B
Test Tool
Product C
Test Tool
Product D
Screen Reader
Noncompliant
Table
48 0 1 2
Compliant
Table
0 0 31 0
Noncompliant
Form
9 5 3 10
Compliant
Form
2 4 2 0

Notes

  • Currently, there are no tools that can determine software compliance automatically.
  • When evaluating a website, one of the preferred evaluation tools is the one that the webmaster uses.
  • Different testing tools evaluate websites differently. The tester must be aware of the differences.
  • While all the testing tools strive to provide an accurate Section 508 testing report, the styles and outcomes are not comparable. For example, Product C counted the noncompliance of a table as one error. Product A counted the number of erroneous code elements, thus counting each cell as an error, for a total of 48 errors. While the tools reported radically different numbers of errors, the result was that both tools detected that the table is noncompliant.
  • Some issues are found by one tool, and not found by others. Take Products A, B, and C for example. Product A found nine errors in the noncompliant form. One might assume that Products B and C each identified a subset of the same errors, but this was not the case. Product B identified some of the same errors that Product A found, but also identified other errors. The same was true with Product C.
  • When testing web pages with screen reader software, the technician must be familiar with web development techniques, and must be able to read HTML code.
  • Testing tools can be very helpful to determine the overall compliance of a site or to track recurring errors. However, because of the reasons outlined above, in order to declare a page Section 508 compliant, it is not enough to rely on the results of a testing tool. Rather, all errors must be checked and fixed manually.
  • It is important to understand the law and the document that is being evaluated. There can be exceptions that exempt parts of the document from Section 508 compliance.
  • Use at least two testing tools to evaluate a product. Using Product D is a good choice for an experienced evaluator, but using an additional testing tool is even better.

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Conclusions

  • Each testing tool has its strengths and weaknesses. The test technician must know them in order to accurately evaluate Section 508 compliance. Whenever there is an upgrade to a tool, the technician should learn its new capabilities and features.
  • One tool is not necessarily better than any other. They each provide different evaluations.
  • In order to use AT as a testing tool, the technician must be an expert in that specific AT.

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Questions to Improve Understanding

1. Which are true statements concerning JAWS screen reader as a test tool? (two correct answers)

  1. Very few people are experienced enough to use JAWS accurately as an evaluation tool.
  2. If you are experienced, JAWS is the "gold standard" for determining software compliance.
  3. If JAWS can read a document, then the document is compliant.
  4. Developers should code/create to conform to the Section 508 standards and not to work with JAWS.

2. Tools are commonly available that can test software applications automatically for Section 508 compliance.

  1. True, and they include…
  2. False

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