- Section 508 is an amendment to the US Rehabilitation Act that applies to ICT and online accessibility.
- Section 508 was updated in 2018 to account for changes in technology and user needs.
- Not achieving Section 508 compliance precludes work as a government contractor as well as limiting market access.
- Section 508 refers repeatedly to ICT, meaning Information and Communication Technology which includes websites, mobile apps and other digital properties.
Everyone wins when Information and Communication Technology (ICT) meets Section 508 compliance requirements. According to the American Institutes for Research® (AIR), Americans with disabilities earn around $490 billion annually in disposable income. ADA and Section 508 compliant web pages are accessible to people with disabilities, which makes them accessible to a larger potential audience. Additionally, 508 compliance is required for government contracts which means your business could be precluded from lucrative opportunities. With the rise of ADA lawsuits, digital accessibility is also required to avoid costly litigation.
So it’s easy to see why it’s one of the most important pieces of accessibility legislation in the US, but what is Section 508 and how can you ensure compliance with it?
What is Section 508?
Section 508 is an amendment of the United States Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that extends protections for individuals with disabilities to websites run by the government and organizations that receive government funding. Like the ADA, Section 508 puts a legal framework in place that citizens with disabilities can use to achieve remediation of accessibility claims.
An Exception to the 508 Compliance Requirement
Sometimes new electronic and information technology takes time to catch up to regulations. Businesses do not need to achieve 508 compliance if doing so imposes unreasonable cost or excessive difficulty.
The federal government isn’t off the hook like businesses. Federal agencies need to find alternative ways to get information out to the public in all cases. Unlike the ADA, Section 508 doesn’t apply to every organization.
Individual states have laws that can extend Section 508 requirements:
- The California Government Code’s Section 11135 requires all state governmental entities and state funding recipients comply with Section 508.
- The Illinois Information Technology Accessibility Act (IITAA) requires state universities and agencies to ensure their website is barrier-free for people with disabilities.
The Section 508 Update
The federal government issued an important update to Section 508 which became law in January 2018. Technology does not sit still, so it is essential to revise guidelines and requirements, such as ADA and Section 508, to adapt to evolving tech.
When standards aren’t updated with technology, those standards run the risk of being unable to serve the people they intend to protect and hold back technology development. The 2018 update makes it easier for organizations to comply with and understand Section 508 standards.
The revised 508 standards include:
- Incorporates Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 as technical standards for compliance
- Shifting the focus to qualitative functionality for how well ICT works with people with disabilities.
- Requiring functionality for assistive technology like screen readers and other software.
- As with the ADA, Section 508 requires the concept of digital accessibility extend to people with cognitive, learning, and language abilities instead of just vision, hearing, and physical disabilities.
Similar to the ADA, section 508 compliance extends beyond web accessibility and software. All publicly accessible content must all be compliant. Information that isn’t publicly accessible might require Section 508 compliance as well. The 2018 update specifies people with disabilities must have full access to digital channels like intranets, emergency bulletins, official receipts, training materials, and employment opportunities.
What If You’re Not 508 Compliant?
Your business could miss out on opportunities to work with the government because the government can’t use ICT that has not achieved ADA or 508 compliance.
Even if Section 508 doesn’t cover your business, following the WCAG 2.1 requirements will help avoid any complications with ADA compliance and conflicts with Canada’s AODA requirements.
Not complying with ADA regulations can lead to litigation from individuals who are unable to use a website. It’s frustrating for people with disabilities in particular to use ICT that isn’t fully accessible. Therefore, not being in compliance is also bad for business.
Conversely, being able to boast how your ICT follows ADA, Section 508 or other accessibility standards by including features like alternative text and accessible PDFs can help bring in more business.
Achieving 508 Compliance
Improving your digital accessibility isn’t as easy as flipping a switch. However, every business has the capacity to improve and seize new opportunities. A firm with experience in ADA or Section 508 compliance can help ease the process through running accessibility audits and training.
ICT accessibility involves more than just web designers. The U.S Access Board also offers valuable Section 508-related resources via its Section 508 Best Practices Webinar Series. These webinars focus on changes and updates to Section 508. If your organization works with the federal government or aspires to do so, Section 508 and ADA website content compliance will have you on the right track.
An Innovative Solution
eSSENTIAL Accessibility has plenty of resources available designed specifically to help organizations meet Section 508 compliance. Our latest WCAG whitepaper features an checklist to help businesses make sure they are following all aspects of the law. Find out how compliant you are today by downloading the free WCAG 2.1 Checklist here.
If you’d like to explore how a trusted accessibility partner can help your organization achieve and maintain 508 compliance, get in touch with the eSSENTIAL Accessibility team today.