University Web Developers

University Web Developers

OK so this is a question I have had for sometime after reading the 508 laws a few times. 508 litterally seems to govern just Federal agencies or a State or Private agency that is working from a Federal grant. Based on this it seems like for most of us, if not almost all, that 508 is really not applicable legally. We have, in Arkansas, an act on the books that essentially speaks the same language as the 508 laws, so that is what we reference and go by as an instituion. We also require level 1, and where possible level 2 WCAG accessibility guidlines.

So the there seems to be a lot of focus on 508, which morally is not a bad thing. But when you have to justify this position with faculty, lawyers, public, etc.. it is a detail it seems that can open up a hole in the argument for which there is no rebuttal, other than "because I said you have to do it".

Here is the reference, under purpose:

I guess my question is, what is your institutions take on adhereing and promoting 508 vs. a state law or institutional policy?

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In Kansas, we are actually governed by Policy 1210. But, basically all it says (Section 7.1) is that state agencies must be 508 and WCAG compliant, heh. Nothing else is actually different from those.
It is my understanding that Section 508 is applicable to any agency that receives federal money. I would think that the vast majority of colleges and universities in the United States fall into this category. In New York, we have a state wide technical policy for all state agencies that is actually more stringent than section 508. (See

IMHO, the focus should not be on meeting a specific policy or standard, but to truly understand accessibility with a goal of making sites as accessible as possible.
We have research centers that recieve Federal grants, but the university itself doesn't. I guess you could argue that the center is the university, and therefore all things must meet 508. But I currently see this as the center recieves the money, so anything they put out is governed by 508, but not the institution itself.

I agree 100% that accessibility is a mindset. The need to bring down all barriers regardless of what you point to as the guidelines. But I find myself having to play the bulldog often to get things accessable, and if I have to pull out the legal stick, I want to make sure I have the right one.
Did you know that the state has a contract with hisoftware?

You can finally test for NYS standards!

You have to sign up and be approved, but it saves hours of comparing the section 508/WCAG results with the NYS ones.
Keep in mind that there's the ADA law of 1990 which applies to both public and private entities, including colleges - This is very important for people with disabilities as this law protects their rights and allows them more accessibility.
I can't speak to an institutional mandate, but I can tell you my take on it, after being consulted on a civil rights case -- Section 504 applies to any entity that receives federal funding. While Section 504 doesn't have a strict outline of procedures, Section 508 does -- and Section 508 was put into place to eliminate discrimination, just like 504. So I use the 508 guidelines as protection against 504 violations.

Would it hold up in court? Dunno. But it seems to be the best guidance we can get.
At Penn State, we've made adherence to 508 institutional policy, reading as follows: "Site administrators shall integrate W3C and Section 508 standards into site planning and design."

In the recommendations section, we've also got "recommend using current best practices for XML/XHTML/HTML AND CSS, and current best XML, XHTML validators, such as those at,, and related organizations. It is presumed that developers and site managers will use their best judgment in interpreting validator reports and follow developments in the field closely."

Fantastic steps forward, considering previous to this, it was essentially Wild West--do what you can to survive, and everyone does their own thing.

That said, while this policy is great to have, no one's really enforcing it.
Well the guidelines still are needed to be enforced - they are not "optional":

- Videos and podcasts: How will we the deaf users be able to access? (I have profound hearing loss, by the way). Now that website is changing from being text-only to more of "audio", there must be a requirement for multimedia files to have text versions.

- Images: How will the blind users be able to "see" images? Alt and other attribute descriptions are required.

Those are two of so many requirements. The internet was actually created as a way to make information exchange fully accessible to everyone - that was the intent of Berners-Lee. Since those accessibility problems came up, those laws had to be used to protect people with disabilities from discrimination and to force the website owners to take responsibility to give the equal access to everyone. I myself enjoyed the early internet days with text-only pages, and now I'm frustrated when I see videos and podcasts with no text equivalent.

You have no idea what's it like to live with hearing loss - maybe you try to turn off sound on your TV or computer every day to get some idea of how much we miss when we don't have alternative ways of getting information.
Here at the University of Washington (Seattle, Washington) we concluded that 508 itself does not explicitly, legally apply. 504 and ADA are the ones that apply in a strict legal sense. However, the Washington State Information Services Board, which guides technology use in Washington state agencies, including higher education, published guidelines that Web sites should comply with 508. Those are guidelines, not standards. In addition, we have a "reasonable accomodation" policy for the handicapped, and we have seen higher education legal cases where the federal compliance with 508 standards has been interpreted as a reasonable expectation of what we should be able to do.

I am not sure if all that is clear, but it is summarized nicely on our Accessibility in IT Web site at, created in large part by our ever industrious Terrill Thompson.
Laws or no laws - we still need full accessibility. How would you feel if you had broken ears and couldn't understand what's said in videos and podcasts? All of us deserve the equal information access. Our society would improve information exchange by keeping open minds and helping each other find different ways to interact with each other. Not all of us can hear and there are more ways to communicate (visual, tactile, etc) than just via sounds.
How does Lehman address this? Do you all CC all of your videos? If you do, what service do you use and how did you get the funding for it?
I agree heartily. We are emphasizing building a learning community of Web developers who continuously work on improving their accessible design skills (for all IT) because we want to have in inclusive, high
quality educational community. In my mind, enforcing standards is relatively ineffective without building a skill community and providing the tools that make building accessible services an efficient, effective, dynamic process.



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