Deep Dive Into Regulations for Digital Accessibility

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S-508

Section 508 Compliance: Your Questions Answered

Section 508 compliance directly impacts federal organizations, programs, and contractors. This amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the first federal law to forbid disability discrimination, requires federal agencies to provide Information and Communications Technology (ICT) accessible to people with disabilities.

Let’s start by learning how Section 508 pertains to ICT. 

Which types of digital assets are affected by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act?

Section 508 specifically addresses digital accessibility and all electronic communication, including: 

  • Public-facing website pages
  • Website forms
  • Emails sent internally and externally 
  • Software and all apps (including mobile) 
  • Online training materials
  • Employment application pages
  • All digital files like PDFs

Which Organizations Do Section 508 Compliance Requirements Affect?

Section 508 is a federal legislation, but it may also impact:

  • Financially assisted (U.S. government) state, county, and civil authorities 
  • Federally assisted universities, museums, galleries, medical centers, and other organizations. 
  • Contractors spanning all sizes and services that work with the U.S. government.

Section 508 guidelines do not, however, apply to agency-operated technology concerning national security systems. The law also excludes conformance that causes extreme burdens or requires a foundational change in the nature of ICT. Nonetheless, in these instances, organizations still must provide alternatives for people with disabilities to access information and services.

How is Section 508 Different from the ADA?

Section 508 of the rehabilitation act concerns federally-funded agencies and organizations, such as contractors and suppliers. It mandates that such organizations provide digital communications conforming to 508 compliance requirements that also comply with Level AA of WCAG.

The (ADA) applies to businesses open to the public, nonprofits, and regional and state governments. Title III of the ADA forbids discrimination against people with disabilities in public places. It’s also important to note that U.S. courts increasingly rule that the ADA applies to websites and mobile apps.

What Are Section 508 Compliance Requirements?

The U.S. Access Board has accessibility guidelines included in Section 508. Additionally, the board integrated WCAG 2.0 into Section 508 standards in 2017. The latest updates mandate that agencies comply with Level A and Level AA of WCAG. 

Understanding the legal obligations related to accessibility that are relevant to your business requirements is essential. Additionally, being aware of the potential consequences of not adhering to Section 508 standards is vital. The main Section 508 requirements include:

1. Accessibility Standards: Federal agencies must ensure that their electronic and information technology is accessible to people with disabilities. This includes hardware, software, and documentation.

2. Web Accessibility: Websites and digital content need to be accessible, often entailing adherence to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These guidelines offer a comprehensive set of recommendations aimed at enhancing the accessibility of web content.

3. Procurement Policies: Section 508 mandates that federal agencies, in the development, procurement, maintenance, or utilization of electronic and information technology, ensure that the technology is accessible to employees and members of the public with disabilities.

4. Equal Access: Individuals with disabilities must have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access and use by Federal employees or members of the public who are not individuals with disabilities.

5. Compliance Reporting: Federal agencies are required to report on their compliance with Section 508 and the steps taken to ensure accessibility.

6. Remediation and Enforcement: If a Federal agency fails to comply with Section 508, there are processes in place for remediation and enforcement, which can include complaints and legal action.

7. Guidelines and Standards: The U.S. Access Board develops and maintains accessibility standards which are used as a framework for Section 508 compliance.

8. Training and Awareness: Agencies are also required to provide training and raise awareness about accessibility requirements among their staff.

These requirements are particularly important for IT professionals, web developers, and content creators working with or for Federal agencies, as they must ensure their products and services are compliant with these accessibility standards.

How Can You Create A Section 508 Compliant Document?

Creating a 508 compliant document refers to making a digital document accessible to individuals with disabilities, particularly those using assistive technologies such as screen readers. 

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) serve as the gold standard for crafting accessible content, particularly focusing on content structure and accessibility features. 

These features include elements like structuring content through the use of headings and lists to establish a coherent hierarchy. A seamless reading experience is achieved by meticulously defining the reading order, and non-text components, like images, are thoughtfully paired with descriptive alternative text to provide context for users relying on assistive technologies. 

Additionally, when creating 508 compliant documents, it is advisable to ensure that text labels for links and form fields strike a balance between brevity and meaningfulness, ultimately enriching the usability for individuals with disabilities.

One effective way to build accessibility into your digital documents is by using specialized tools like UserWay’s automated document accessibility solution, which streamlines the process and ensures that your files adhere to the required laws and standards, enhancing inclusivity and facilitating ease of access for all users.

What Is a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template?

A Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) shows how (ICT) products comply with revised 508 standards. It conveys that digital information and communications must be accessible to all people. Moreover, federal agencies and organizations must provide ICT that conforms to Section 508 accessibility standards.  

A VPAT thoroughly scrutinizes these agencies’ services to verify their conformance to Section 508. This assessment helps organizations report their products’ compliance, and it’s their responsibility to finalize a VPAT to ensure these products comply.

What’s the Risk of Non-Compliance to Section 508?

Failure to comply with Section 508 or any other digital accessibility law has considerable legal risks. Related lawsuits are increasing rapidly, and the costs can be severe and even crippling for smaller organizations—case and point: more than 3,000 organizations faced accessibility-related lawsuits in 2022 alone.

If the legal penalties aren’t enough to worry about, these lawsuits can be a PR disaster for any organization. Nonetheless, integrating assistive technology tools and following web best practices for conformance can help you avoid these legal impacts and harmful press exposure.

5 Tips for Section 508 Compliance

1. Provide assistive technology that enables people with fine motor skill impairments to function with just a keyboard.

2. Highlight all interactive, on-screen variables.

3. Provide alt text for every non-text variable.

4. Integrate the recommended color contrast ratios, and ensure that color isn’t the only variable conveying the meaning of information.

5. Organize documents without the need for associated style sheets. In addition, no web page should need a cascading style sheet to view or navigate.

Summary

Beyond the accessibility and legal reasons, what’s the true meaning of Section 508? Like all laws that support and enforce digital inclusivity, Section 508 compliance is about creating a barrier-free web for everyone. Unfortunately, people with disabilities have faced exclusion from websites and digital devices for far too long. Organizations can help to reverse this problem. Making a concerted effort to satisfy Section 508 compliance is an excellent way to do your part. See how companies benefit from ongoing compliance support with UserWay. 

UserWay: Accessibility & Compliance Solved

UserWay’s AI-powered technologies enable you to comply with Section 508 and all other related laws. Products like the UserWay Widget 4.0 is just one example of how UserWay can help your organization remain accessible and legally protected. 

Get the complete picture today. 

Common FAQs

What is the difference between accessibility and Section 508 compliance?

Accessibility refers to the broader practice of making information and communication technology usable for people with disabilities. Section 508 compliance relates to a set of legal requirements that mandate federal agencies and their contractors to ensure their electronic and information technology is accessible to people with disabilities. While all Section 508 compliant technology is accessible, not all accessible technology necessarily meets the specific criteria of Section 508.

Do emails need to be compliant with Section 508?

Section 508 mandates that all electronic and information technology used by the Federal Government must be made accessible to individuals with disabilities. Emails are included in these requirements and need to be compliant with Section 508 if they are used for official business by federal agencies or by organizations working with federal agencies.

What’s the purpose of Section 508 compliance testing?

Section 508 testing enables businesses to test websites and digital content for WCAG compliance to help ensure people of all abilities have complete access.

Are Section 508 accessibility standards or legal requirements?

Section 508 accessibility standards are legal requirements for federal agencies and organizations conducting business with them.