Accessible URLs for 508 Compliant Documents

Question: I want my URLs to be accessible and compliant with Section 508- what is the “correct” format?

Answer: Unfortunately, the interpretation of Section 508 requirements by various government agencies is not consistent. EDCS always asks clients for their “style sheet” with guidelines regarding their preferred format, and here are the basic choices and what we consider to be best practices:

Complete URLs or descriptive text? HHS specifies in their checklists that URLs should be complete

“contain the correct hyperlink and display the fully qualified URL (i.e.,http://www.samhsa.gov and notwww.samhsa.gov)”

while SSA suggests plain text, that clearly describes the destination, like

Best Practices Library

rather than the actual URL,

“http://www.ssa.gov/accessibility/bpl/bps/navigation/links/default.htm”

URLs are often pretty descriptive, but do you think a sight-impaired user wants to hear a long, non-descriptive URL read out loud? Like

http://www.regulations.gov/#!searchResults;rpp=50;so=ASC;sb=agency;po=0;a=HHS%252BACF%252BAHRQ%252BAOA%252BCDC%252BCMS%252BFDA%252BHRSA%252BHHSIG%252BSAMHSA%252BNIH%252BIHS;dct=PR%252BFR;dkt=R

I believe the answer is pretty obvious- the best practice is to use plain text that clearly describes the destination. For more information on best practices for accessibility, visit the SSA Best Practices Library!

Question: What about underlining URLs?

Answer: Again, no definitive answer within the regulations, but we customarily artifact any underlines, as there is no need for them to be read out loud. JAWs, etc., can identify and label links for users, the underline is just extra noise. Furthermore, Google has abandoned underlines, and only relies on color to identify links. Colored URLs are easy to pick out for sighted users, the underline is not needed. And if Google says underlines have “gone out”, we all know it is useless to resist…

So, use descriptive text, contrasting color, and skip the underlines. Happy tagging!!!