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How to Improve Digital Dashboard Accessibility Scores

In order to improve your agency’s website accessibility scores within the Digital Dashboard tool, we must understand why we test, how tests are conducted, and the limitations of automated testing. The below guidance is intended to assist with improving website scores on the Digital Dashboard Accessibility module. For other Digital Dashboard questions, please visit the frequently asked questions on DigitalDashboard.gov.


Section 508 Accessibility Standards

In 1998, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was amended to require all federal agencies to make their electronic and communications technology accessible to people with disabilities. In 2017, the U.S. Access Board issued Revised Section 508 Standards which, in part, harmonize Section 508 requirements with other guidelines and standards both in the U.S. and abroad, including standards issued by the European Commission and as well as the standards set forth by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a globally recognized voluntary consensus standard for web content and ICT.

For additional information on Section 508 standards, laws and associated requirements, visit:

How Websites are Measured

The Tool

The data presented by the Accessibility module is obtained through use of an open-source application known as Pa11y. Pa11y uses other open-source tools, including HTML_Codesniffer and aXe Core, to identify accessibility issues. 

While we selected Pa11y to scan for accessibility issues presented by the Accessibility Module, there are a range of other proprietary and open-source tools available to assist web developers and IT managers in creating accessible technology. It is recommended that agencies ensure their automated and manual accessibility testing tools and processes align with the ICT Testing Baseline

The Findings 

The Digital Dashboard’s Accessibility module scans for certain common accessibility issues across all publicly accessible .gov executive branch agency websites. Website domains that simply redirect to other websites are not measured. The Accessibility module scans second-level federal .gov websites (e.g., agency.gov). Note that third-level federal websites, such as program.agency.gov, .mil, .edu, .us, and state, local, and Native Sovereign Nation (NSN) are not currently scanned by the Accessibility module.

The Accessibility Module performs spot checks, informed by the current Section 508 standards. The checks use the WCAG 2.0 success criteria associated with each standard to inform the testing approach. For test rule details, visit Digital Dashboard Accessibility Guidance.

Limitations of Automated Testing

All automated testing, including that performed by the Digital Dashboard’s Accessibility module, is limited to programmatic conformance testing. Automation can test some, but not all, of the technical requirements. For example, while automated tools may be able to identify whether or not an image has an ALT attribute (and whether that attribute is blank or has a text value), they are currently unable to determine if that ALT text is a meaningful or equivalent description of the image. As such, the Accessibility module reports do not constitute a complete accessibility evaluation and must be accompanied by manual inspection. Agencies should use both automated and manual testing (conducted by a certified tester) to fully assess whether their website is accessible. For additional testing guidance, visit Accessibility Testing for Software and Websites

How to Fix Accessibility Issues

The tools listed above provide web developers and content managers with the information they need to pinpoint issues on their pages. While some issues may involve a more significant overhaul of a website’s architecture, most can be corrected with only minor updates to the site, such as deleting errant tags, making minor CSS adjustments, or adding ALT text to images.

Technical Guidance:

If you need help fixing issues identified in the Accessibility module, contact your agency’s Section 508 Program Manager, or our team at section.508@gsa.gov.

How to Access the Digital Dashboard

To access the Digital Dashboard Accessibility Module, simply: 

  1. Sign into DigitalDashboard.gov using your MAX.gov account
  2. Select the “Accessibility” module link, and review the data for your agency.

Note: First-time dashboard users will need to submit a one-time request to dotgovdashboard@gsa.gov for access to your agency data.

Related Resources

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Reviewed/Updated: June 2021