The final Section 508 rule includes so-called functional standards that require, for example, that there be a way for a person who is mobility impaired or blind to use your product or web site. So as a fall-back position, if the technical standards don't make requirements clear or if new technology is being employed, the functional requirements fill the gap.
The Section 508 technical standards say your web site has to satisfy sixteen specific items for web accessibility. These are specific things you must do during web site development to ensure that a person who is mobility impaired or blind, for example, can use your site.
These standards, which are the basis of this course, do not require that you dumb down your site. Most sites can be made accessible without changing the visual experience at all.
For example, the standards say you must use alternative text for images and use client-side image maps instead of server-side maps. These are fairly simple and clear requirements. They are perhaps the most important, the most frequently ignored, and they have no impact on the way non-disabled users see or interact with the site.
As we have said, in addition to the web, the Section 508 final rule includes specific standards for software, hardware, and telecommunications equipment. The software requirements are relevant to the web today; Ajax is, in effect, creating software on the web. This course will not cover the Section 508 software accessibility standards.
There have been other efforts to establish guidelines for web accessibility, including those by IBM and Microsoft. All of them, including the 508 standards, have drawn on the work of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) that has crafted a set of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
The WAI guidelines are grouped by priority; the priority 1 checkpoints are very similar to those in the final Section 508 rule. In fact, eleven of the sixteen 508 Standards are drawn directly from the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, in some cases using language more consistent with regulatory language. Five of the 508 standards do not appear in the WAI checkpoints and require a higher level of access or give more specific requirements. On the other hand, there are four priority 1 WAI checkpoints that were not adopted by the Access Board. The differences between The WAI and Section 508 are discussed in the Access Board document and in Jim Thatcher's side-by-side comparison of WCAG and Section 508.