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Feature image What You Need to Know About the Section 508 Refresh

Get ready everyone, the rules are changing! You may have heard some buzz surrounding the Section 508 “refresh” that happened this week. Here is a bit about what Section 508 is, who it impacts, and how you can start preparing to ensure your organization complies with the new rules (hint: you’ll have a full year to get yourselves up to speed).

What Is Section 508?

Since about 15% of the world’s population has some form of disability (according to the World Health Organization) it’s pretty critical that the US government works to promote accessibility.[1] One of the ways they’ve done this is to create Section 508.

Section 508 is a part of the Rehabilitation Act that requires all Federal Departments and Agencies to make their digital content accessible. For full details on Section 508, please check out the US government’s website explaining what the specifics of the accessibility program are and whether they apply to you.

What Is the Section 508 Refresh?

With the technology landscape evolving and growing at a rapid pace, it’s important that laws and regulations concerning digital assets be reviewed and revised frequently. Sachin Pavithran, Chair of the Board’s ICT ad hoc committee, explains the refresh, “This update is essential to ensure that the Board’s Section 508 standards and the Communications Act guidelines keep pace with the ever-changing technologies covered and continue to meet the access needs of people with disabilities.”[2]

First, it’s important to understand what digital realms the refresh will impact, “The Section 508 Standards apply to electronic and information technology procured by the federal government, including computer hardware and software, websites, multimedia such as video, phone systems, and copiers.”[3] So that’s pretty broad. It pretty much means that if you’re a member of the federal government, you need to listen up.

The Access Board has scheduled a webinar on February 2, 2017 where they will explain the new rules in greater detail. While some accessibility advocates are less than thrilled with the ambiguity that is attached to the WCAG 2.0 guidelines, the Section 508 Refresh promises to be somewhat more concrete. On the Access Board’s website, they give us some insight into what to expect from the new rules, “The updated requirements specify the technologies covered and provide both performance-based and technical requirements for hardware, software, and support documentation and services.”[4]  We’ll know which technologies the rules impact and what the exact requirements will be, which should help everyone reach compliance a bit more easily.

Get Ready to Learn More

If this all seems a bit daunting, then you will probably be glad to hear the government understands and has plans to help. The Section 508 website promises that help is on the way. So see, they’re not planning to leave you high and dry to figure out how to abide by all of the rules alone. It’s important to remember to take advantage of these resources as they become available. Otherwise, you could risk misinterpreting the rules and not making the right changes.

In addition to this assistance and training, the US Government is aware that organizations will need time to achieve compliance with these new rules. As a result, they are giving a full year for groups to bring their digital content up to the new Section 508 standards. Until then, the current standards will be acceptable. However, it’s best to start thinking about what changes you need to make, since that year will likely fly by.

One of best ways to ensure your company is actively aligning its digital resources with the new rules is to educate yourself as much as possible. Head over to the Access Board website and register for the February 2nd webinar now, that way you’ll be well-informed about the changes that are happening and can start making updates within your organization.