Tackling the Universal Accessibility Challenge

Accessibility is a challenge that all global brands face.

SDL Accessibility Solution, launched at SDL Connect 2018, is designed to ensure that content and digital experiences (DX) are universally accessible and meet regulatory compliance.

In this series, we’ll explore the topic in more detail. We’ll take a look at why it’s such a hot topic, and what practical ways companies can include people of all abilities in DX strategies. This post takes a look at US regulations and provides more information as to why this matters and why corporations need to comply.

Making content accessible to everyone

Companies need to ensure content is universally accessible, across channels and media types, to all people – regardless of language, country, culture, and ability. In the US specifically, section 508 and section 504 prescribe institutions to deliver accessible content.

Approximately 10% of the US population has impairments that inhibit them from accessing digital content. With an aging population accustomed to internet access, the numbers of those needing this support will grow over the years to come.

What is 508 compliance?

Section 508 of the National Rehabilitation Act is a federal law that aims to enable everyone, regardless of their life circumstances, to benefit from technology such as websites, online forms and digital media.

Under Section 508, all institutions supported by federal funds must enable people with disabilities equal opportunities to access websites and electronic communications. The broad reach of Section 508 encompasses government agencies, managed healthcare, educational organizations and relevant private sector websites.

As of January 2018, 508 compliance validation will be required for:

  • Electronic documents, such as emails and attachments
  • Software and hardware
  • Applications and websites developed for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) purposes

Becoming “Compliant"

Agencies who currently have digital content are required to “remediate" their content so persons of limited abilities can have the same access as non-impaired individuals.

Today, a significant amount of information and interactive forms reside online. For example, for the first time this year, the CMS Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services allowed managed care providers to provide their Explanation of Benefits (EOC) in a digital format, instead of requiring providers to print and ship the EOC to their members.

With the requirement for compliance validation, this content needs to be operable, understandable and robust, with an attestation of compliance, and prove that accessibility standards have been met.

Difference between 508, 504 and ADA compliance

Where 508 addresses the accessibility for electronic communications and content, 504 addresses printed content. Section 504 requires federally funded agencies, like education, financial and healthcare companies to provide accessible printed content otherwise available to those without limited abilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination based on disability status.

Many people and companies use the terms 508, 504 and ADA-compliant interchangeably. However, a good guideline is to use “508 Complaint" when speaking about digital content and “504 Complaint" when referring to printed content. “Accessible Content" or “Universal Accessibility" describes all content.


Over the past few years, many agencies and companies have been targeted by individual or class action lawsuits for not being 508 or 504 compliant.

High-profile cases include the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Education, Social Security Administration and even non-government companies like Target Corp, Charles Schwab and H&R Block.

While the results of many of these lawsuits are confidential, non-compliance can cost companies well into seven figures and harm brand and image. The Star ratings of US Healthcare companies are impacted if they are not timely with their compliance, resulting in a significant impact on new enrollees and their bottom line.

Introducing SDL Accessibility Solution

SDL Accessibility Solution address universally accessible content for those with limited abilities.

The solution aligns with SDL’s end-to-end content supply chain strategy: from content creation and management, through to translation and delivery across all channels and media types, providing universal accessibility regardless of language, country, culture, and abilities.

The solution is part of an established service that has been delivered to managed health care and insurance providers for several years. Through a comprehensive solution that combines accessibility services and technology, the SDL solution helps our customers balance compliance, time restrictions and costs.

In our next post, I’ll take a closer look at the impact on organizations, the challenges they face and the ways in which SDL helps organizations become and remain compliant.