The 411 on Section 508

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What is Section 508 and What’s it all About?

Image of a blue circle with the words "section 508 compliance" displayed in white font.The Rehabilitation Act known as Section 504 was passed into law in 1973.  Section 504 is the nondiscrimination requirements of employers and organizations that receive financial assistance from any Federal department or agency.  This includes the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  Many organizations fall under section 504: hospitals, nursing homes, human service programs, mental health centers, schools and libraries including the Bar Association, to name the majority.  Section 508 was added to section 504 in 1998.

Section 508 was added to section 504 to eliminate barriers in information technology, open new opportunities for people with disabilities, and encourage development of technologies that will help achieve these goals. The law applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology. Under Section 508 (29 U.S.C. ‘794d), agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to access available to others.

How was section 508 developed and who needs to adhere to the laws?  The United States Access Board is an independent federal agency that designs and develops the accessibility guidelines and standards.  The Access Board promotes equality for people with disabilities and the board’s 508 standards apply to electronic and information technology procured by the federal government, including computer hardware and software, websites, phone systems, and copiers. They were issued under section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act which requires access for both members of the public and federal employees to such technologies when developed, procured, maintained, or used by federal agencies.

Who makes up the Access Board and how do they function?  The Board is structured to function as a coordinating body among federal agencies and to directly represent the public, particularly people with disabilities. Twelve of its members are representatives from most of the federal departments. Thirteen others are members of the public appointed by the President, a majority of whom must have a disability. The Access Board will monitor the progress that is being made in accessibility and regularly modify the standards to keep up with technology and the needs of the consumer and federal employees.

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How is Section 508 Enforced and What Industries are Covered?

Complaints can be filed with The Access Board by the public in any violation of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, including Section 508.  Section 508 requires access to the Federal government’s electronic and information technology. The law covers all types of electronic and information technology in the Federal sector and is not limited to assistive technologies used by people with disabilities. It applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use such technology. Federal agencies must ensure that this technology is accessible to employees and the public to the extent it does not pose an “undue burden.” Covered technologies must be accessible according to access standards developed by the Access Board that have been incorporated into the Federal government’s procurement regulations. To file a complaint under Section 508, contact the Federal agency responsible for the technology in question.

Advocacy groups will also monitor federal agencies to verify that the agencies are in compliance with all laws and regulations.  Some advocacy groups are primarily focused on awareness and will request for an agency to become compliant with the laws.  Other advocacy groups will seek legal resolution on behalf of a group or individual.

Does Section 508 Apply to State and Local Government Agencies?

The laws for state and local government activities and agencies is the ADA Title II.  The law is slightly different and the U.S. Department of Justice oversees the compliance of ADA Title II complaints and violations.

Title II covers all activities of State and local governments regardless of the government entity’s size or receipt of Federal funding. Title II requires that State and local governments give people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from all of their programs, services, and activities (for example: public education, employment, transportation, recreation, health care, social services, courts, voting, and town meetings).

State and local governments are required to follow specific architectural standards in the new construction and alteration of their buildings. They also must relocate programs or otherwise provide access in inaccessible older buildings, and communicate effectively with people who have hearing, vision, or speech disabilities. Public entities are not required to take actions that would result in undue financial and administrative burdens. They are required to make reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures where necessary to avoid discrimination, unless they can demonstrate that doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity being provided.

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Does Section 508 or ADA Title II Apply to Non-Profit or Private Businesses?

The laws for non-profit or private companies/businesses are ADA Title III: Public Accommodations.  Like the Title II laws, The U.S. Department of Justice oversees the compliance of ADA Title III complaints and violations.

Title III covers businesses and nonprofit service providers that are public accommodations, privately operated entities offering certain types of courses and examinations, privately operated transportation, and commercial facilities. Public accommodations are private entities who own, lease, lease to, or operate facilities such as restaurants, retail stores, hotels, movie theaters, private schools, convention centers, doctors’ offices, homeless shelters, transportation depots, zoos, funeral homes, day care centers, and recreation facilities including sports stadiums and fitness clubs. Transportation services provided by private entities are also covered by Title III.

Public accommodations must comply with basic nondiscrimination requirements that prohibit exclusion, segregation, and unequal treatment. They also must comply with specific requirements related to architectural standards for new and altered buildings; reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures; effective communication with people with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities; and other access requirements. Additionally, public accommodations must remove barriers in existing buildings where it is easy to do so without much difficulty or expense, given the public accommodation’s resources.

Courses and examinations related to professional, educational, or trade-related applications, licensing, certifications, or credentialing must be provided in a place and manner accessible to people with disabilities, or alternative accessible arrangements must be offered.

Section 508 Complaints

Complaints of Title III violations may be filed with the Department of Justice. In certain situations, cases may be referred to a mediation program sponsored by the Department. The Department is authorized to bring a lawsuit where there is a pattern or practice of discrimination in violation of Title III, or where an act of discrimination raises an issue of general public importance. Title III may also be enforced through private lawsuits. It is not necessary to file a complaint with the Department of Justice (or any Federal agency), or to receive a “right-to-sue” letter, before going to court. For more information, contact:

U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Disability Rights Section – NYAV
Washington, D.C. 20530

www.ada.gov
(800) 514-0301 (voice)
(800) 514-0383 (TTY)

Complaints of Title II violations may be filed with the Department of Justice within 180 days of the date of discrimination. In certain situations, cases may be referred to a mediation program sponsored by the Department. The Department may bring a lawsuit where it has investigated a matter and has been unable to resolve violations. For more information, contact:

U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Disability Rights Section – NYAV
Washington, D.C. 20530

www.ada.gov
(800) 514-0301 (voice)
(800) 514-0383 (TTY)

Title II may also be enforced through private lawsuits in Federal court. It is not necessary to file a complaint with the Department of Justice or any other Federal agency, or to receive a “right-to-sue” letter, before going to court.

Assessing and Remediating Documents to Meet Section 508 Standards Image of the Braille Works 508 Compliance Icon

Elements of your documents such as paragraph structure, tables, charts, lists, etc., need to be properly organized and tagged to provide true accessibility and user friendly materials. This complex process cannot be properly done using automation products. Don’t struggle through the complicated process of ensuring all your materials are accessible to those with disabilities. Instead, let Braille Works handle your 508 document repair and remediation.

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This post was written by Christine Sket

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