If you’ve heard the terms “Section 508” or “508 compliance” and wondered what they mean, you’re not alone. Briefly put, Section 508 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and has undergone several strengthening refreshes over the years. The most recent of these was in 2017. The 508 standards and guidelines ensure that information and communications covered by Section 508 are accessible to individuals with disabilities.
That explanation might leave you with more questions. What exactly does that mean for your business? And how do you know if your business is affected? And if it is, how can you make sure you are in compliance?
It’s helpful to start with a more in-depth explanation of what Section 508 is.
What is Section 508?
Section 508 was made part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 in 1998. Its purpose is to “…require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities.”
The refresh in January of 2017 updated accessibility guidelines and requirements for information and communication technology (ICT) in the federal sector. It also updated guidelines for telecommunications and reorganized Section 508 and Section 255 guidelines to better align with and reflect recent communication technology innovations. The guidelines affect all federal agencies and vendors, contractors and partners of those agencies operating in the United States or abroad.
There are several laws related to Section 508, including laws that prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities. When talking about communications, the three most relevant related laws are:
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities.
- Section 255 of the Communications Act: requires telecommunications products and services to be accessible to people with disabilities.
- 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010: requires advanced communications services and products to be accessible by people with disabilities.
An In-Depth Look at 508 Compliance
So, who needs to be 508 compliant?
Section 508 doesn’t apply to federal agencies alone. It also impacts any company that does business with a federal agency. This includes private contractors, the financial industry, healthcare, many legal organizations, and others.
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Is Section 508 compliance your job?
Do you work in finance, banking, HR, healthcare, customer service, legal, or other industries and are in a position that requires you to communicate with people? If you answered yes, then Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act applies to you.
If you have a customer base or you work with federal agencies, or hope to, then you need to be 508 compliant. Being 508 compliant ensures that all of your customers and your clients have equal access to the materials which your company produces.
What documents fall under Section 508?
Any and all digital communications that a company under Section 508 jurisdiction creates must be 508 compliant. This includes website content, emails, computer software, gaming systems, apps, and PDF versions of traditionally printed assets. PDFs require 508 remediation as they are not accessible by screen readers.
There are a number of ways to test your company’s 508 compliance, but they are not all equally effective and compliance is your responsibility. You could try to perform the test internally, but we strongly advise against this method. Alternatively, you could purchase a 508 compliance testing tool online. Testing software will scan and evaluate your website and all online content and provide you with recommendations to fix accessibility issues, but this method is not 100% reliable and often the content can become altered making the document less effective. This method is more reliable than an internal scan, but there are no guarantees that the content is in the proper reading order and is complete.
Section 508 sets complicated standards that go beyond providing an accessible website. Effective accessibility compliance includes all of your business documents that need to be maintained through the remediation process. This is often overlooked with website development and website compliance.
The best way to ensure 508 compliance is to partner with a trusted accessibility expert. Working together, you and an accessibility partner can create an effective plan on how to achieve and maintain 508 compliance.
Accessible PDF structural elements.
There are components that must be addressed in every public-facing PDF document. The categories include:
- Master Requirements for all Documents
- General Layout and Formatting Requirements
- Accessibility Tagging and Reading Order
- Document Images Requirement
- Lists and Tables
- Form Fields
Ensure 508 compliance with an accessibility strategy.
Achieving complete 508 compliance can be a complicated process to try and undertake on your own. Many people within an organization are responsible for documents and communications that fall under Section 508, as well as hiring or conducting business with contractors which must also be compliant. There are online assessment tools, but these are shortcut solutions.
What you need is an accessibility strategy that transforms your business communications, and then expands out to look at your company’s accessibility as a whole.
Section 508 Compliance Checklist
The most effective way to increase accessibility is to view it as an opportunity rather than a task. Look for ways to transform not just your documents but workspace, processes and culture. When accessibility is ingrained in your company culture, it’s easier to predict opportunities for accessibility and avoid non-compliant communications or processes.
10 Tips for Improving Accessibility, Service, and Experience for Customers with Blindness or Visual Impairments
Fast and accurate 508 document remediation specialists.
Meet WCAG 2.0 AA and Section 508 compliance standards quickly without sacrificing accuracy. Braille Works has been a trusted resource for document accessibility and compliance since 1994. Our accessible document solutions help mitigate cost and risk to your business.
With over 20 years’ experience, we are the leader in
document accessibility and compliance.
- A completely in-house process ensures your confidential documents remain secure
- ADA, Section 504 and 508 compliance specialists on staff
- Strict quality control procedures keep your data secure, accurate and confidential
- Section 508 and WCAG certifications available
- Fast, accurate remediation
We take the security of your documents seriously.
- SOC II Certified
- PCI 2 Compliant
- ISO 27002 Compliant
- COBIT standards
- Highest standard data encryption
- 24/7 Secure electronic file transfer
- A secured facility and a remote location
- Off-site disaster recovery location and agility recovery
- Secure Iron Mountain off-site data backup
Accessibility is a customer experience opportunity.
508 compliance ensures that all of your clients have equal access to the materials your company produce. By being in compliance you are helping someone maintain their independence and protecting an individual’s rights. That’s why it’s so important to choose a trusted partner that believes quality accessibility is a right for all customers. Being in compliance safeguards your company’s reputation, both with the government and with your customers.