Section 508 refers to a part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. When the Rehabilitation Act was created, its goal was to prevent disability discrimination in federal organizations, federal programs, federal contractors, and similar groups. This Act was amended by the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 to include Section 508 because of the technological advancements being made at the time.
As a result of Section 508, federal agencies must buy, build, maintain, and distribute all information and communications technology (ICT) in ways that are accessible for people with disabilities. This helps to ensure that all federal agencies and programs are giving members of their organizations and members of the public the ability to access information and participate in related activities without barriers.
The U.S. Access Board is responsible for developing Information and Communication Technology (ICT) accessibility standards to incorporate into regulations that govern Federal procurement practices.
Section 508 requires federal agencies to make their ICT such as technology, online training and websites accessible for everyone. This means that federal employees with disabilities are able to do their work on the accessible computers, phones and equipment in their offices, take online training or access the agency’s internal website to locate needed information. Section 508 also means that a person with a disability applying for a job with the federal government or a person who is using an agency’s website to get information about a program, or completing an online form has access to the same accessible information and resources available to anyone.
One of the most important aspects of Section 508 is its requirement that digital information must be presented in formats that rely on multiple senses. For example, this prevents federal agencies from only providing text-based content. There must be alternatives created that allow people who are blind to be able to listen as well.
This set of laws is not so comprehensive as to include every potential situation, as that is quite difficult partly because of the various definitions of disability, and partly because even the most thorough research cannot cover every contingency. However, it does continually seek to bring all disabled people as much as possible under the protective umbrella of the law.
Because many businesses will simply offer what they are required to and no more, and because many business owners might not consider accessibility enough of a priority to trigger expenditure, laws such as these were put into place. These laws were designed to safeguard disabled individuals from discrimination while simultaneously guaranteeing them comparable opportunities to abled persons, in the public sector and in many areas of the private sector.
What accessibility standards does Section 508 require?
In its final rule published in 2017, the Access Board adopted the WCAG 2.0 AA as its guidelines for ensuring websites are authored and structured in an accessible and inclusive manner to work as seamlessly as possible with those relying on assistive technologies. It also expands the standard to include federal documents that are not posted online.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a constantly-evolving set of standards created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international nonprofit that publishes what are generally considered to be the official specifications for HTML, CSS, and several other web technologies. Contributions are made by an international community of member organizations, academics, W3C full-time staff, and the public, working together to develop the WCAG. In fact, staff members at UserWay have key leadership roles in the development of the WCAG.
WCAG is essentially the primary how-to guide for properly coding a website to be accessible for people with disabilities. WCAG contains detailed instructions for website owners, designers and developers on how to create websites, digital content and markup through accessible approaches that work seamlessly with assistive technologies.
WCAG has gone through a series of revisions since its inception and currently stands at version 2.1. The guidelines are broken down into three levels of compliance, with increasing numbers of letter As representing higher standards. You might think of these as being like grades, with the lowest level being “average,” the next “above average” and the last “excellence.”
There are four principles that guide how the WCAG is managed.
Information and user interface components must be presented to users in ways they can perceive. This means content must be evident to at least one or more of their senses.
So, for example, in order to create a perceivable piece of information that will get through to the senses of the user:
- The web page and its text must be compatible with screen readers or other assistive technology and devices
- Text alternatives must be provided for non-text content (such as images)
- When creating content, consider that it ought to be capable of being presented in multiple ways without losing meaning
- Make it easier for users to see and hear content you provide
User interface components and navigation must be operable. This means that users must be able to operate the interface, and the interface cannot require interaction that a user cannot perform.
Some ways this can be achieved include:
- Making all functionality available from a keyboard
- Giving users enough time to read and use content
- Avoiding content that causes seizures or physical reactions
- Helping users navigate and find content
- Making it easier to use inputs other than a keyboard
Information and the operation of user interfaces must be understandable. This means that users must be able to understand the information, as well as how to operate the user interface.
Some ways this can be achieved include:
- Making text readable and understandable
- Making content appear and operate in predictable ways
- Helping users avoid and correct mistakes
Content must be provided in numerous ways so that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. This means that users must be able to access the content (and remain accessible) as technologies advance.
This can be achieved by:
- Using standards to guide how content is presented
If any of the 4 WCAG principles are not met, users with disabilities will not be able to use the web. To help developers know exactly how to make content that meets the four principles, Guidelines and Success Criteria are included that provide a roadmap for web content to become as accessible as possible.
The AI-Powered UserWay Accessibility Widget is the easiest way to bring your website into full compliance for not only WCAG, but across all standards. It also ensures any content you add in the future is compliant as well. Making your website standards-compliant will help boost your bottom line, but at its core, it’s about making sure that the doors of your website are open to all. Fundamentally, it’s the right thing to do. Because everyone should have equal access to the internet.
How Do Federal Agencies Ensure They Are Compliant?
The Access Board has created a comprehensive website and automated tool to help federal agencies and contractors meet accessibility requirements.
Section508.gov provides guidance to federal agency staff who play a role in IT accessibility. The site addresses several key topics, including:
Provides best practices on how to manage an effective IT Accessibility program
Helps agencies understand how to clearly define accessibility requirements for ICT procurements, and helps ICT vendors understand the need to demonstrate the accessibility of their IT products and services for potential federal buyers;
Tools and Training
Conducts and facilitates training for IT Accessibility program managers and agency procurement officials, and offers tools to automate common accessibility-related management tasks and;
Helps Federal agencies understand and meet their responsibilities under Section 508 and related laws and policies.
The Accessibility Requirements Tool (ART) is a web-based application that helps agencies and federal contractors determine the Section 508 requirements that apply to acquisitions that include information and communication technology (ICT) products and services. ART provides a comprehensive report detailing the technical criteria that apply to the specific procurement, including functional performance criteria (if applicable) and any exceptions, both at the component and overall procurement level.
ART is a multifaceted tool that offers interactive, step-by-step guidance on how to determine applicable accessibility requirements. ART delivers an exportable, easy-to-follow list of Section 508 requirements to include as part of your procurement package, so vendors understand the specific technical requirements they need to meet.
Section 508 Relates To All Parts of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973
It is important to understand Section 508 in the context of other laws related to federal disability policy. In addition to Section 508, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 has several other sections:
Section 501 and 505
Prohibits federal employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities.
Prohibits employment discrimination based on disability by federal contractors or subcontractors.
Prohibits federal agencies, programs, or activities from discriminating and requires reasonable accommodation for qualified individuals with disabilities.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is essentially a civil rights act that guarantees people with disabilities are provided equal opportunities by the federal government and its contractors.
How Does Section 508 Apply To Private Companies?
While only federal contractors are required to meet Section 508 compliance, it does set a precedent that accessibility should be a top priority for private companies. Not only does it make them qualified for government contracts, but it’s the right thing to do. Everyone should have equal access to content online. Additionally, with the adoption of WCAG as the standard for Section 508 compliance, as well as federal courts pointing to WCAG as being the industry standard in ADA cases, it looks as though it’s only a matter of time before accessibility compliance is mandated across the internet.--
The AI-Powered UserWay Accessibility Widget is the easiest way to bring your website into full compliance for not only Section 508, but across all standards. It also ensures any content you add in the future is compliant as well. Making your website standards-compliant will help boost your bottom line, but at its core, it’s about making sure that the doors of your website are open to all. Fundamentally, it’s the right thing to do. Because everyone should have equal access to the internet.
To learn more about how the UserWay Accessibility Widget complies with Section 508, please get in touch. And if you can’t wait to get started using the widget, click the link below to begin a free trial.