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Teaching Resources & Tips

About Accessibility and Section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act of 1973

As a government-funded agency under the department of Health and Human Services (HHS), NNLM is required to comply with section 508 policy as it applies to all products and services we produce on behalf of the National Library of Medicine. Plus it's the right thing to do - we want our content and products to be accessible to everyone.

Background on Section 508

In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities. The law (29 U.S.C. § 794 (d)) applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology. Under Section 508, agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to access available to others. The United States Access Board discusses the Section 508 law and its responsibility for developing accessibility standards for EIT to incorporate into regulations that govern Federal procurement practices. Learn more about Section 508.

Accessibility Links

  • Adobe Acrobat DC accessibility guides - While you must have Adobe Acrobat Professional edition to utilize most built-in accessibility tools, all versions of Adobe Acrobat DC, Adobe Acrobat Reader DC, Acrobat Standard DC and Acrobat Pro DC provide support for the accessible reading of PDF files by persons with disabilities.
  • ARL Accessibility and Universal Design (Spec Kit 358) - explores how ARL member libraries are meeting the accessibility needs of individuals with disabilities. From the Association of Research Libraries, May 2018.
  • Color Contrast Analyser - The Color Contrast Analyser helps you determine the legibility of text and other elements in a document.
  • Federal Social Media Accessibility Toolkit Hackpad - Tips on making social media accounts more accessible, including 5 Things Every Social Media Content Manager Needs to Know about accessibility. Coverage includes Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube and more.
  • Free PDF Accessibility Checker (PAC 3) - This freeware download program provides a fast way to test the accessibility of PDF files. PAC supports both experts as well as end users conducting accessibility evaluations.
  • Google Chrome Accessibility Developer tools  - Adds an Accessibility audit and sidebar pane to Chrome Developer Tools, so you can load a webpage then check to see that it is compliant in the same browser window.
  • H5P Content Type Accessibility - H5P is a free, open-source content collaboration framework based on HTML5. It aims to make it easy for everyone to create, share and reuse interactive HTML5 content. Most components are accessible. A Moodle 3.4 plugin is available. 
  • HHS Usability Guidelines - full listing of standards and practices developed for web content and digital communications.
  • HHS Web Policies - general outline of requirements and policies
  • HHS Current policies - on social media and third-party applications/websites
  • HHS Making Files Accessible page - checklists, training and guidance for file types including PDF, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, HTML, multimedia
  • Microsoft Creating Accessible Documents Video Series -  Last updated September 2015, instructions may need an adjustment for MS Office 2016
  • NCDAE cheat sheets - Step by step directions (with pictures!) for creating accessible versions of common types of files (MS Word, PowerPoint, Excel). Includes directions for both Mac and PC. Does not include the newest versions of MS Office. From the National Center of Disability and Access to Education.
  • Toolkit for Making Written Material Clear and Effective - 11-part Toolkit the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) provides a detailed and comprehensive set of tools to help make written material in printed formats easier for people to read, understand, and use
  • WAVE accessibility Tool for Firefox & Chrome - The WAVE Chrome and Firefox extensions evaluates web content for accessibility issues directly within Chrome and Firefox browsers.  The extension can check intranet, password-protected, dynamically generated, or sensitive web pages, and, according to it's website, is 100% private.

Common Elements for 508 Compliance 

Tips from the NNLM Web Services Office

Alt Tags

  • Every image (photos, objects or logos) you use must have an Alt tag, regardless of file format (png, jpg, bitmap, etc.)
  • If an image is being used for strictly decorative purposes and does not contribute to the content in a meaningful way, consider eliminating it.
  • Using an empty Alt tag (Alt="") will instruct a screen reader to skip the image and make no mention of it. You can use this for decorative images.

How to tag an image (MS Word, PPT):

  1. Right-click the image
  2. Select Format Picture
  3. Select Layout& Properties
  4. Select Alt text
  5. Enter a brief, concise description into the description field (less than 100 characters)

Setting Language Property

To set the Language property (MS Word, PPT):

  1. File > Info
  2. Under the Properties drop-down, select "Advanced Properties"
  3. Click the Custom tab
  4. Under Name type "Language"
  5. Under Value type "English"
  6. Click Add
  7. Click OK

To add the Advanced Document Properties to your Quick Toolbar (MS Word, PPT):

  1. On the Custom Access Toolbar drop-down menu, select "More Commands"
  2. In Choose Commands, select All Commands
  3. From the All Commands list, select Advanced Document Properties
  4. Click Add
  5. Click OK


  • Tables should only be used to organize data or information in a meaningful way, they should not be used for layout purposes
  • Tables should not have any merged cells
  • Tables must have a "Header Row" designated in Table Properties (Word, PPT)
  • Use a logical layout based on rows and columns, read left to right and top to bottom
  • Use the following Layout selections (Word, PPT):
    • On the Layout tab, select Table Properties > under the Row tab, un-check "Allow row to break across pages"
    • On the Layout tab, select "Repeat header rows for all pages"

Other Resources