The 411 on Section 508

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Section 508 of The Rehabilitation Act 

Icon of a telephone inside a circle and a speech bubble with the words "The 411 on Section 508".

To understand Section 508, we need to first look at The Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The basis of the Rehabilitation Act is to prevent discrimination. And prevent the inaccessibility of goods, services, employment, education, and information for people with disabilities. 

Section 508 is the portion of the Rehabilitation Act that prevents barriers in accessing information technology for a person with a disability. It was added to the Rehabilitation Act in 1998. The addition was due to the increase of digitization in America.

Who is Responsible for Following The Rehabilitation Act?

The Rehabilitation Act applies to all organizations, businesses, and agencies that receive federal funding. It also applies to private and public companies that hold federal contracts. In fact, as of September 2021, Section 508 compliance is mandatory for all government procurement, per the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR).  

Section 508 Evolves 

Keep in mind technology was moving faster than expected in the early 2000s. As technology evolves, the accessibility standards of Section 508 need to be adaptable. The United States Access Board, The federal agency responsible for creating and modifying the Standards of this amendment, saw a need to refresh the law. 

The refresh to Section 508, now known as the Accessibility Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Standards, ensures the primary purpose of inclusion, usability, and nondiscrimination for people with disabilities.  

Laptop displaying the words "Information and Communication Technology Standards and Guidelines".

The Accessibility ICT Standards 

The 508 standards, in combination with Section 255 of the Communications Act, make up The Accessibility (ICT) Standards. These standards ensure accessibility for people who have a sensory, physical, or cognitive disability in accessing information and communication via technology. 

The Accessibility ICT Standards apply a single set of requirements to websites, electronic documents, and software. So, the US Access Board worked with The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), and today the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) are the standard for electronic accessibility compliance per Section 508. 

Businesses, Organizations, and Agencies

All businesses, organizations, and agencies must provide equal access, opportunity, and inclusion in all areas of accessing information, goods, services, and technology to people with disabilities. In other words, there are very few legal exceptions to providing accessibility.

Some laws define, outline, guide, and direct accessibility, like the Rehabilitation Act. This law primarily pertains to federal agencies, businesses, federally funded organizations, and those seeking federal procurement.

Image showing the logos for Microsoft Word, Power Point and Adobe PDF with the words "Section 508 Compliant" above

How Does Section 508 Relate to the ADA?

By comparison, a law like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a broader law. The ADA is directed at public and private organizations, states, and municipalities. The ADA requires accessibility, but there are few specifics when it comes to digital and electronic accessibility. 

Businesses beware! Just because the ADA doesn’t have a set of standards in the law for digital accessibility doesn’t mean you do not have to provide accessibility. Case law sets a clear precedent for WCAG Standards, the same electronic accessibility standards that comprise Section 508.

So, what’s the key takeaway? One or more laws require every business, organization, and agency to provide electronic and digital accessibility for people with disabilities.

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This post was written by Braille Works

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