Digital Content Translation for the Visually Impaired

Move over Braille! Importance of Section 508 Compliance and Americans with Disability Act for Digital Content Translation

translation visually impaired

Companies that are involved with government contracts have to obey specific laws. In the translation industry, they typically ask that we deliver the translations of digital documents in compliance with visual and hearing impaired requirements. We classify these requirements as digital content translations under Section 508.

These requirements have moved on beyond governmental contracts and now apply to all commercial digital content. Although the law passed in Feb 2018 makes it harder for unscrupulous lawyers who seek profit by threatening businesses with litigation without actually seeking to improve access for the disabled to benefit from non-compliance with Americans with Disability Act (ADA) laws, in FL, they are still suing companies opens in a new window and winning. They go after commercial companies with digital content, like websites, videos, podcasts or other multimedia assets, that don’t conform to Section 508 requirements.

Visually and Hearing Impaired Stats

According to a 2016 National Health Interview Survey, 25.5 million adult Americans confirmed having trouble seeing even with corrective lenses. Many of them are legally blind. This is roughly 10% of the U.S. adult population.

Furthermore, about 37.5 million U.S. adults complain of hearing problems, with men being twice as likely as women to report the problem.

Business Case

From a business point of view companies are potentially missing access to a large target market if they are not compliant with Section 508.

Don’t look at Section 508 compliance as a chore, but rather as an opportunity to differentiate yourself from your competition. By catering to the needs of impaired people, you are much more likely to win their business and gain their trust and appreciation.

So how hard is it to make your digital content compliant and what will it take, particularly if that content needs translation?

Translation for the Hearing Impaired

For hearing impaired people, audio tracks are the problem. You address them by offering transcripts for video and audio content, or closed captioning (CC) for videos and multimedia content.

Note that CC does not only require you to provide the spoken text, but also descriptions of any other audio sounds in the background.

Translation for the Visually Impaired

For Visually impaired individuals, it gets much more complicated.

Typically, visually impaired individuals follow either or both of the following methods:

  1. When their vision is not fully impaired, they tend to zoom in on the text to enlarge it so that they can read it easier, or
  2. With complete impairment, use text to speech software, or a screen reader, to read the content for them.

All major web browsers have plugins that provide a text to speech feature. For instance, Google offers text to speech for Chrome opens in a new window that you can download and use.

By installing this plugin, visually impaired users can have their computers read the content of any web page to them or zoom in on a secondary simple display of highly contrasted text so that they can better view it.

But this is scarcely enough to help visually impaired people navigate the complexities of a website. So there are additional steps that a webmaster can take to maximize the user experience of visually impaired individuals.

Becoming Section 508 Compliant

First, start by checking your website’s URL at: https://webaccessibility.com/ opens in a new window. It will give you an idea of how accessible it is.

If your website is built in WordPress, there is a plugin that can be installed that will assist in that process. The plugin is called WP ADA Compliance Check Basic.

You can download and activate it for free. The paid version will fix many of the issues automatically.

It will check your content for any issues that may cause less than optimal experience with visually impaired users. For instance, it will warn you if your images don’t contain Alt (alternative text) tags to read to the user what the image is about. It will prompt you if a language attribute is not added to the code to help the text to speech software know what language it will be reading. It will flag all anchor tags (text based link) if set to open a new window. Opening a new window without first notifying the visually impaired user can disorient them. It will warn when headers are setup in the incorrect order…

By correcting all the errors and warnings reported by the plugin, webmasters can create a more enjoyable experience to visually impaired individuals.

Section 508 and SEO, Opposing Forces?

Interestingly, ADA and SEO requirements overlap. Search engines are both deaf and blind, although advances in artificial intelligence are gradually changing that. By making your website ADA compliant, you are also improving its search engine optimization.

If you use WordPress for your site with one of its recent mobile friendly themes and are search engine optimizing it with Yoast, you are likely far into Section 508 compliance. 

Translation Impact on Section 508 Compliance

Translating Section 508 content risks introducing non-compliance. If translators do not translate meta tags, or desktop publishers do not properly format headers, fonts and tables, you will risk becoming non-compliant with your translated content.

By hiring a language translation vendor that is experienced with Section 508 (and SEO techniques for that matter), you will have to undergo another effort to make your translated content compliant. If you are translating into 24 languages, which many of our clients do, this will require applying Section 508 requirements to all 24 languages!

Additionally, competent translators will warn you when they notice content that is not compliant. This gives you the chance to correct it in the source language, before the non-compliance propagates to all translated languages.

In short, make sure you hire people that know what they are doing and how to keep your digital content Section 508 compliant.

Does My Digital Content Need to Be Section 508 Compliant?

We strongly recommend that you discuss this issue with your legal counsel. But here are some general rules that you may find useful.

All entities serving the public, local, state or federal government agencies should be compliant with ADA regulations requiring Section 508 compliance for digital content.

Furthermore, if you are a private commercial company with 15 or more employees, you should comply.

If you operate a physical location that has to comply with ADA requirements, assume that your digital content, including your web presence should as well.

For all other organizations, the law is not very clear. If you do not have a strong legal case not to comply and want to avoid possible legal liabilities in the future, seriously consider complying.

When in Doubt

If your website and digital content is small, it is much easier to implement Section 508 requirements to a website (which will make it ADA compliant) when it only holds a few pages. When the free WP ADA Compliance Check Basic plugin is used in WordPress, the webmaster of a small website can quickly update the existing pages to meet the requirements. After that, each time a new page is added, the plugin automatically checks for any compliance issues and warns the webmaster before the page is published, keeping the site compliant. 

The additional effort will enable disabled users to use the site, help with its SEO/ranking, and eliminate any possible ADA-related liabilities down the road. These three benefits are worth the little extra time investment that is needed.

When in doubt, it is best to comply.


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