Government web accessibility

Posted on September 21, 2018

Government website accessibility

It is becoming more critical that governments understand and execute on website accessibility standards. Web accessibility, particularly for non-technical government leaders, can be overwhelming, both with the amount of information available, as well as the many technology nuances related achieving conformance.

Here is comprehensive but condensed information on web accessibility — terms, guidelines, tips, tools, resources and more — that government leaders should be familiar with.

Web accessibility

According to the U.S. General Services Administration:

Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can use the web. More specifically, web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate and interact with the web and that they can contribute to the web. Web accessibility also benefits people without disabilities, including older people with changing abilities due to aging.


According to WebAIM, motivations for web accessibility include:

  • To improve the lives of people with disabilities (human-centered motivations)
  • To capitalize on a wider audience or consumer base (marketing or economic-centered motivations)
  • To avoid lawsuits and/or bad press (public relations and punishment-centered motivations)


According to WebAIM, accessibility principles include:

  • Perceivable – Available through sight, hearing, or touch.
  • Operable – Compatible with keyboard or mouse.
  • Understandable – User-friendly, easy to comprehend.
  • Robust – Works across browsers, assistive technologies, mobile devices, old devices/browsers, etc. Follows standards.


According to the W3C, the types of “diverse abilities and barriers” web users may have include:

  • Auditory
  • Cognitive and neurological
  • Physical
  • Speech
  • Visual

Section 508

Section 508 was amended to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. 794d) in 1998 and requires U.S. federal government agencies to build more accessible digital technologies. While it does not directly apply to state and municipal governments, localities are making accessibility a legal requirement based on protocol established by Section 508. Section 508 does not apply to U.S. Congress, judiciary or private sector websites or organizations that receive federal funding.

According to GSA:

Section 508 requires that when federal agencies develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology, federal employees with disabilities have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access and use by federal employees who are not individuals with disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the agency. Section 508 also requires that individuals with disabilities, who are members of the public seeking information or services from a federal agency, have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to that provided to the public who are not individuals with disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the agency.



The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) established the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) “with a goal of proving a single shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations, and governments internationally.”

According to Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Standards and Guidelines, established by the U.S. federal government’s Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, or Access Board, “The Revised 508 Standards and 255 Guidelines incorporate by reference the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, a globally-recognized and technologically-neutral set of accessibility guidelines for Web content.”


For developers building web authoring tools, there are specific guidelines for this, including Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) and Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA).


According to the ICT, conformance with the section 508-based standards applies beginning January 18, 2018:

For Section 508-covered ICT, all covered Web and non-Web content and software—including, for example, Web sites, intranets, word processing documents, portable document format documents, and project management software—is required, with a few specific exceptions, to conform to WCAG 2.0’s Level A and Level AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements.


Here are the WCAG 2.0 conformance levels from W3C:

  • Level A: For Level A conformance (the minimum level of conformance), the Web page satisfies all the Level A Success Criteria, or a conforming alternate version is provided.
  • Level AA: For Level AA conformance, the Web page satisfies all the Level A and Level AA Success Criteria, or a Level AA conforming alternate version is provided.
  • Level AAA: For Level AAA conformance, the Web page satisfies all the Level A, Level AA and Level AAA Success Criteria, or a Level AAA conforming alternate version is provided.

Example practices

From content to code, there are many aspects of web accessibility conformance. Here are some general best practices:


Do not:

  • Rely on text in images
  • Use blinking or moving text
  • Flash pages more than three times

PDF files and accessibility

While we don’t encourage Portable Document Format (PDF) usage, there may be cases where governments are compelled to use this file type. PDFs are not considered standard web files, but since many governments still use these as public-facing web documents, Adobe recommends the following for making a them accessible:

  • Searchable text
  • Fonts that allow Characters to be Extracted to Text
  • Interactive Labeled Form Fields with Accessible Error Messages and No Timing
  • Other Interactive Features: Hyperlinks and Navigational Aids
  • Document Language and Title Indication
  • Security that will not Interfere with Assistive Technology
  • Document Structure Tags and Proper Reading Order
  • Alternative Text Descriptions for Non-Text Elements

If your PDFs are not accessible, you must ensure to provide a conforming alternate version.


While there a many aspects of web design and content, such as language and readability, that are difficult to evaluate using automated tools, these will help you address the more basic issues:

Recommended reading/viewing



ProudCity and accessibility

We are continuously enhancing the ProudCity Platform accessibility features.

The ProudCity Accessibility Checker helps governments understand and stay abreast of pertinent accessibility issues and continue to maintain AA compliance. PAC lets government website managers run accessibility reports, view errors/warnings, and resolve these issues immediately.

Learn more about ProudCity Accessibility, PAC and visit our accessibility development issues queue to what we’re working on and future updates.


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