Section 508: A Checklist For 508 Compliant eLearning Sites

Updated on November 9, 2022

Federal agencies in the US must adhere to Section 508 standards for website accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Section 508 is a set of standards published by the US Access Board in 2017 that all federal agencies must follow to make their Information and Communication technology accessible to people with disabilities. This means that anything from websites to mobile software, printers, and documents, must be accessible. 

A course being conducted using sign language

If you are a federal agency that conducts corporate training, or supply training to those agencies, you need to use an LMS that makes it easy to create a 508-compliant training program. 

In this article, we’ll provide a 508 compliance checklist for eLearning and explore the best practices for online courses to become compliant.

Should my online course be Section 508-compliant?

Technically, only federal agencies need to offer 508-compliant eLearning courses to their learners. Course creators only have to be Section 508-compliant when authoring federally-funded eLearning courses or offering online courses to federal employees. The General Services Administration (GSA) provides many official resources on how to create a learning experience and digital products that are more accessible. 

It’s worth exploring as the GSA works closely with the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative, a set of best practices that online creators can follow to make their websites, eLearning content, and digital products more accessible to everyone. In many countries, it is mandatory for websites to be compliant with web accessibility standards. In the US, for example, websites must be compliant with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Making your website accessible is all about following best usability practices and creating more accessible learning experiences which benefit everyone. By creating training courses and eLearning content that is more accessible, you can reach a wider audience of learners. By contrast, if your courses are not accessible then you are missing out on a large potential audience. Consider that: 

By following a simple 508 compliance checklist for eLearning, you can create content that reaches those learners, who may not otherwise consider your site. 

Why choosing the right LMS is important for online course accessibility

In order to follow a strict 508 compliance checklist for eLearning, you need a Content Management System and Learning Management System that makes it possible for you to set up training courses and eLearning content that follow Section 508 best practices. 

We recommend using WordPress as your CMS. WordPress is extremely popular and with good reason – you can customize your site in any way you like. You can add all kinds of functionality with plugins, and you can choose a WordPress theme that acts as the basis of your website’s design. By choosing an appropriate theme, it’s much easier to stick to Universal Design best practices for accessibility. We discuss these practices further down in this article. 

Next, we would recommend using Sensei LMS as your learning management system. Sensei LMS is a leading WordPress LMS plugin that enables course creators to produce eLearning content using very simple drag-and-drop functionality. 

Sensei LMS landing page

Sensei LMS comes with native integration with WordPress and WooCommerce, which makes it extremely easy to create and publish courses. With Sensei LMS, you’ll have full control over many of the design aspects that help you deliver a 508-compliant eLearning experience. 

Sensei’s distraction-free Learning Mode is a standout feature that has been carefully reviewed and follows accessibility best practices. The distraction-free environment removes clutter, reduces cognitive load, and makes for a better and more accessible learning experience for individuals with disabilities. 

We’ll explore more of Sensei’s features and how they tie to Section 508 as we go along.

The 508 compliance checklist for eLearning and online training websites

If you are a federal agency or just want to create eLearning experiences and online training courses that are more accessible to people with disabilities, you should consult our handy 508 compliance checklist for eLearning:

Follow Universal Design practices

Universal Design is ‘the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their size, age, ability or disability.’ 

Universal design is about applying visually friendly designs that use identifiable color schemes for colorblind or visually-impaired persons, along with shapes and patterns that can convey content. Find out more in this handbook for Universal Design practices

As an eLearning or online training site, you should also consider authoring your course structure in a way that is easy to navigate. 

Sensei LMS demo course

Take a look at Sensei LMS’s demo site as an example of how you can create a course that’s accessible to everyone. Courses are divided into clear categories with drop-down menus describing their content. Once you enter a category or lesson, clear and clean sidebar navigation makes it easy to find what you are looking for. 

Some of the quickest Universal Design best practices you can implement include:

  • Using descriptive navigation links so that users know exactly where a link leads.
  • Including multiple elements in the same lesson to convey the same meaning. This way you can make sure that meaning is not only derived from a single sensory element. For example, if you add audio to your lesson then you should also add a transcript. 
  • Using clear and descriptive titles for your course, section, and lesson pages, i.e., always ensure that your lesson titles and headers accurately describe the corresponding content.
  • Using clear and logical headlines and subheadings that make processing easier. Ensure that there is always more than one way to access every page in your online training or eLearning course. 

Follow contrast requirements for text and images

When it comes to displaying text, always follow best practices for contrast:

  • Visual presentation of text and images should have a contrast ratio of 4.5:1 (except for large text, incidental text, or logotypes).
  • Colors should not exceed the contrast requirements.
  • Large text needs to be at least 18 points or 14 points for bold text.
  • Colors with a gradient should always use the lightest color in the gradient for contrast ratio.
  • You should test color contrast with the WebAIM color contrast checker.

Bear in mind that some of your learners may be colorblind or otherwise visually impaired, so colors should never be used as the primary means of conveying lesson information

If all of this seems complicated, don’t worry. You can adhere to contrast requirements by simply choosing the right WordPress theme. Sensei LMS works with any theme to make it easier for you. 

Make your video content more accessible

In order to adhere to the 508 compliance checklist for eLearning, it’s important to apply best practices to your video content. This includes:

  • Adding captions/subtitles to video content. Sensei lets you easily add videos from YouTube, Vimeo, and VideoPress to your course using the Interactive Videos Block. All these platforms let you add subtitles. 
  • Add a transcript. By using a file block in Gutenberg, you can easily upload your transcript as a PDF file and add it to your lesson.
  • Add an audio description. You can also upload your audio description as a downloadable file using Sensei LMS. 

Make visual content more accessible

You should also follow best practices for images, including:

  • Adding alt texts to images and a null alt text if an image is purely decorative. 
  • Write detailed text equivalents if an image offers a lot of content. 
  • Ensure that the images you add to your lessons make sense without colors too.
  • Use high-quality images that don’t pixelate when they are zoomed.

Using Sensei LMS, you can add descriptive text on images using the Image Hotspot block. This enables you to add text elements to images, providing additional context to users who may have difficulties deciphering images. 

Using the Image Hotspot feature in Sensei.

The Hang, or Hang drum, is an instrument that is both melodic and percussive.

Make audio content accessible

Finally, it’s important to keep individuals with hearing difficulties or trouble with audio processing in mind. Here are some of the ways you can  make audio content accessible

  • Providing a text transcript of your audio files
  • Adding captions and subtitles to audio files 
  • Using sign language wherever possible and required

These are some of the most important practices to keep in mind when creating online training and eLearning courses. If you’re serious about creating accessible course content and want to dig deeper, you can find out more by watching this informative video by Ronnie Burt from SenseiLMS. 

Wrapping it up…

Whether you’re required by law to comply with Section 508 or not, it’s a good idea to make sure your eLearning site is accessible to all persons. By choosing a flexible and feature-packed LMS solution, it will be easier to create 508-compliant eLearning content and courses.

Sensei LMS comes with several tools to help you design learner-friendly courses. You’ll need to follow the guidelines in our 508 compliance checklist for accessible eLearning as well as official documentation and guides to ensure your compliance, but Sensei LMS has plenty of features and multimedia options to help you customize your courses according to your needs. 

Get Sensei LMS today and start creating more accessible, exciting learning content today. 

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