Section 508, WCAG, and E-Learning

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E-learning courses are increasingly popular around the world. However, it is important to consider that those in the U.S. may need to comply with federal legislation to ensure they are accessible to persons with disabilities. More specifically, such courses must be in accordance with Section 508 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act and the international Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Section 508 is a set of technical standards that ensures that software, hardware, web content, telecommunications, and video and multimedia are accessible for persons with disabilities.

In contrast, WCAG is an accessibility standard for web authoring. WCAG is not legally binding, however it reflects the best practice for web content development accessibility. ITU suggests that governments developing their own web accessibility policies use the WCAG 2.0 standard. For more information on this standard and ITU’s recommendation see the relevant section of ITU’s Model ICT Accessibility Policy Report.

If e-learning courses are to be delivered to federal agencies and many state agencies, Section 508 is a requirement. Furthermore, if any aspect of one’s e-learning course is funded by the federal government, complying with Section 508 may be necessary. Even if it’s not a matter of legality, given that 19% of the U.S. population has some form of disability, making up about 6% of the workforce, this is something critical to consider.

With all of the e-learning development platforms that exist, it can be daunting to decide which is best. The Association for Talent Development discusses the following three popular tools in terms of accessibility: Adobe Captivate, Articulate Storyline, and Trivantis Lectora. All these tools can comply with Section 508, and Storyline and Lectora with WCAG as well (at level AA).

In terms of text alternatives and focus/tab order, Storyline seems to be the best of the three. Lectora ranks lowest among the three in these categories. However, for synchronized captioning, skip navigation capabilities, and data tables the results are the opposite.

With the recent introduction of WCAG 2.0 and other developments in accessibility standards, software may further develop in this regard, however, all three platforms remain good choices for developing accessible e-learning content that adheres to both national and international standards in the U.S.

Source: Tanya Seidel, Association for Talent Development