Website Requirements for Section 508 Compliance

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In a recent refresh to Section 508, often incorrectly referred to as ADA section 508, WCAG 2.0 AA was adopted as the technical accessibility standard for ICT, including websites. Read on for more information about Section 508 and its various compliance requirements:

508 Compliance
  • Section 508 is an amendment to the U.S. Rehabilitation Act that requires federal agencies to develop, procure, and maintain Information and Communication Technology (ICT) – including websites – that are accessible
  • Section 508 was updated in 2017 to account for changes in technology and user needs.
  • Section 508 refers repeatedly to ICT, which includes websites, mobile apps and other digital assets.
  • Although it’s often referred to as ADA Section 508, Section 508 actually isn’t part of the ADA. Therefore, referring to it as ADA Section 508 is incorrect. 

Section 508 requires federal agencies to make their ICT – including smart phones, websites, PDFs, software, and other electronic devices – accessible to people with disabilities.

508 compliance is required for government contracts (government agency procurement teams specifically look for accessibility) which means your business could be precluded from lucrative opportunities if your website, product, and/or service isn’t WCAG conformant. Not only this, but addressing digital accessibility can help your organization avoid costly ADA compliance litigation (as well as litigation from other anti-discrimination federal and state laws).

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Let’s look further at what Section 508 is, why referring to it as ADA Section 508 is incorrect, and how you can ensure compliance, whether you’re a government agency or a private contractor. 

What is Section 508?

Section 508 is an amendment of the United States Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that requires, among other things, federal agencies to make their websites and other ICT accessible to persons with disabilities. It is an amendment of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 and clarifies that it is not only employees of federal agencies with disabilities that need to be provided with equal accessibility but also all of their users. This means documents, training, applications, and software published by or for the use of federal agencies all need to comply with Section 508’s guidelines on accessibility.

Is ADA Section 508 something different? 

Contrary to popular belief, Section 508 is not part of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Therefore, referring to Section 508 as “ADA Section 508” is a common misnomer. If you do hear someone referring to ADA Section 508, just know that they’re referring to the amendment of the United States Rehabilitation Act of 1973. 

What does ICT Include when referenced in Section 508?

Per, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is any equipment or system that is used to create, convert, duplicate, or access information and data. Examples of ICT include, but are not limited to:

  • Telephones, smartphones and mobile devices
  • Televisions, DVD players and videotaped productions
  • Internet and Intranet websites
  • PDF documents
  • Content on DVDs and CDs
  • Online training
  • Webinars and teleconferencing
  • Technical support call centers
  • Remote access websites and tools
  • Tablet, laptop and desktop computers
  • Software and operating systems
  • User guides for software and tools
  • Copiers, printers and fax machines
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The Section 508 update

The federal government issued an important update to Section 508 which required compliance from federal agencies and contractors on January 18, 2018. 

The 2018 update makes it easier for organizations to comply with and understand Section 508 standards.

The 508 changes include:

  • Functionality Becomes the Central Focus – In line with changes in technology and how materials are accessed, Section 508 is now organized with a focus on functionality requirements, rather than the product type in question. This is to provide greater clarity in instruction and easier comparisons for Section 508 compliance.
  • Incorporation of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA– The WCAG are established technical standards for web accessibility. The incorporation of WCAG brings Section 508 into line with these international standards. The incorporation of WCAG into Section 508 brings greater clarity for organizations publishing websites, content, documents, applications and other software.  
  • Improving the Accessibility of Web Content – These changes expand on how content published by official agencies needs to be accessible in order to comply with Section 508. All public-facing content, in addition to certain categories of non-public-facing content that comes under the description of official agency business needs to meet Section 508’s accessibility standards. 
  • Alignment of Tools and Technology – The updated Section 508 asserts that assistive technology must be interoperable with the software and operating systems used by applicable parties.
  • Harmonization with Global Marketplace – By introducing references to accepted selected global standards like WCAG 2.0, and going further to harmonize Section 508 with international regulations, such as the European Commission’s ICT Standards (EN 301 549), there is now greater overlap with, and thus access to, global accessibility providers and solutions.
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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.

Achieving 508 compliance

With these updates in mind, how does your organization become in compliance with 508? The first step is understanding the state of accessibility for your digital assets.

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An accessibility audit is a formal evaluation of your asset where technical experts identify accessibility issues per a WCAG version and conformance level, usually WCAG 2.1 AA, which checks for mobile accessibility issues not accounted for in WCAG 2.0 AA.

The second step is remediating or fixing the accessibility issues found.

The next steps involve training (to prevent accessibility issues going forward) and formalizing your accessibility program and processes.

An innovative solution

At eSSENTIAL Accessibility, we work with our clients to create a manual and automated testing plan. Once complete, we move on to remediation and develop a schedule to prioritize and address the issues. As a highly experienced firm in the field we provide full advice on assisting internal development, UX, and content teams on implementing changes, accompanied by continued testing to evaluate progress.

We also offer accessibility training.  This helps establish a “shift-left” approach to ensuring accessibility is built-in to design and development processes, so your assets are produced with accessibility in mind which reduces the remediation workload in the future We also help organizations create an accessibility statement that underlines your organization’s commitment to accessibility.

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.

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What to do next

We can help you meet WCAG standards and maintain ADA and AODA compliance:

  1. Connect with us today to learn more about our comprehensive approach to digital accessibility, including our automated and manual auditing capabilities and extensive range of managed services.
  2. Visit our resources section to download free white papers and webinars, and find our newest blogs on industry trends.
  3. Connect with us to continue the conversation on Linkedin, Twitter, or Facebook.

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