We bring existing Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) electronic learning courses, documents, spreadsheets, and presentations up to 508 compliance. In addition, we design and develop new 508-compliant courses from the ground up. 508 compliance, enacted by Congress in 1998 as an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act, requires Federal agencies to make their information technology and written documents accessible to people with disabilities.
The main challenge for this project was to meet all VA-specific 508 requirements. We also had quite a bit of multimedia-based courseware to convert, and had to create rich, interactive multimedia experiences that could be used by blind, deaf, and non-disabled users alike.
We have a three-tiered approach to making online courses 508 compliant. The first tier involves reviewing and understanding all VA-specific 508 regulations. We follow VA 508 checklists for both documents and multimedia files, and also keep in regular contact with the VA 508 office for any updates.
The second tier of our approach is using our knowledge of VA 508 standards to analyze the VA source files we needed to remediate. For web-based courses, we utilize a VA-sponsored courseware framework to standardize the work we performed, allowing all of the courses to share a certain look and feel. We correct alt tags, long descriptions, and tab orders; format tables and text; and create long descriptions for complex flow charts, graphs, and other complex graphics -- all done for the sake of allowing screen readers such as JAWS to correctly read off and communicate course information aloud to a user. We also make sure that all shading and colors conformed to a 7:1 luminosity contrast ratio, which provides sufficient contrast when viewed by someone having color deficits. We run all courseware and documents through JAWS and also make use of 508 audit tools.
The third tier involves designing and developing interactive elements (where necessary) that work in a 508 environment. Interactive elements help engage learners and also ensure better learning retention, but are often difficult to program for 508 compliance. To date, we have developed several tools in Flash—an evaluation tool, an audio player, and a video player—that have all passed rigorous 508 testing at the VA.