AJAX and Section 508 Accessibility

Discussion in 'Web Design and Development' started by SrWebDeveloper, Dec 15, 2007.

  1. SrWebDeveloper macrumors 68000


    Dec 7, 2007
    Alexandria, VA, USA
    I'm not qualified to offer legal advice! Just my interpretation on a hot issue for developers who wonder if AJAX breaks 508. Any feedback appreciated, here is my point of view:

    508 was written before AJAX. Although there were some updates to 508 in 2001 about rich web apps there are no specific technical standards for AJAX. So developers are wondering if this means AJAX isn't 508 compatible simply because its not directly referenced, and if it is, what standards do apply?

    Right now, AJAX falls in a category requiring “equivalent facilitation” 36 CFR 1194.5, since this technical approach was not around during the first issuance of the requirements. As per 508, the measurement of 508 is “Functional Performance Criteria”. This means, while the technical standards are not available, in order for you to use this technology, YOU HAVE TO FIGURE ACCESSIBILITY OUT… It MUST WORK for blind, low-vision, deaf, hard-of-hearing, speechless(mute), and motor-skill disabilities OR support their assistive technologies (AT).

    Here's excellent 3 part "best practices" advice from Ajaxian.com as to how:


    Could be as simple as embedding a pure HTML version of what your AJAX code does in a <noscript> tag, or adding redundant links to an AJAX menu in your footer. or ensuring the focus is set properly on a form field even if content is written in place following the submit so the screen reader can pick it up. Get the idea?

    It's perfectly acceptable to implement AJAX so long as AT devices are supported, and 508 clearly states the developer is to code to the standard, not the device, so the burden for keeping up to date falls upon the AT manufacturers! The commercial framework products (Bindows, ARIA, etc.) simply have large test labs which test latest AT devices on their rich web enabled apps - but they use the same best practices as Ajaxian/WAI/WC3 suggests!

    There is no official "508/AJAX validation" validator which you can test, pass and proudly promote on your web site. All you can do is meet 508 in general, and only claim 508 compliance and validate for that.

    Do you agree with this? Is there a legal issue to avoid/address?

  2. angelwatt Moderator emeritus


    Aug 16, 2005
    It's JavaScript to watch out for, not AJAX

    Well Section 508 is for government funded places (i.e. military, government, education sites, etc.). So most don't "need" to meet 508, though definitely a worthy goal. It's really about finding ways to make sure your JavaScript keeps the page compliant, not AJAX. AJAX is just a method or technique, not a technology. Therefore, I doubt Section 508 would ever mention it specifically. It can be implemented in too many fashions and can use different technology than what other people use.

    There's a similar problem with HTML validators in that they don't process a pages JavaScript before testing the HTML, so you're left still needing to check things on your own. If you have good enough understanding of Section 508 then you can use JavaScript and watch for any problems. I don't mess with a lot of JavaScript because my site doesn't need it, but when I do, I do think about the accessibility issues that could come up. But admittedly, I don't always have an answer.

    In the JavaScript intense sites having alternate versions of the page is likely the only real solution. Flash pages have the same issue.
  3. MarkCollette macrumors 68000


    Mar 6, 2003
    Toronto, Canada
    I work for a company called ICEsoft Technologies Inc, and we make an Ajax toolkit called ICEfaces. We're adding a lot of Section 508 compatibility right now. In case anyone is interested, you can check it out at www.icefaces.org

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