508 Compliance: How to Get There

508 Compliance

Whenever an Information and Communication Technology (ICT) device, platform, or system achieves “508 compliance,” everyone involved stands to benefit. This means that the service can reach a larger audience by extending usability to people with disabilities. The term “508” refers to an amendment of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 called Section 508—stating that members of the public who have disabilities must be able to access government websites as well as websites of organizations receiving any form of government funding (including web documents) like everyone else.

The federal law requires government agencies only work with ICT that achieves Section 508 compliance. In short, if your business’ ICT isn’t Section 508 compliant, your business will miss out on opportunities to work for the government. According to the American Institutes for Research® (AIR), Americans with disabilities earn around $490 billion annually in disposable income,¹ so making sure your ICT is ADA compliant and can pass 508 compliance testing opens your business to a whole lot of new customer opportunities.

Exception to the 508 Compliance Requirement

Sometimes new technology needs time to catch up to regulation requirements. Businesses do not need to achieve 508 compliance if doing so imposes an undue burden of unreasonable cost or excessive difficult to achieve. Federal agencies, however, will need to find an alternative way to get information out to the public if ICT can’t be adjusted to 508 compliance. Unlike ADA compliance,² not every organization is required to be in compliance with Section 508. ADA requirements, alongside 508 compliance, are often considered a requirement for entities like schools that receive federal funding.

Additionally, individual states have laws that can extend Section 508 requirements. For example, the California Government Code’s Section 11135,³ requires all state governmental entities and state funding recipients comply with Section 508 requirements for ICT. Additionally, the Illinois Information Technology Accessibility Act (IITAA)4 requires all state universities and agencies ensure their website accessibility is barrier-free for people with disabilities.

The Section 508 Update

The US government issued an important update to Section 508 which became law in January 20185 to address changes in technology. Technology does not sit still, so it is essential to revise guidelines and requirements to adapt to evolving tech. When standards aren’t updated with technology, those standards run the risk of both being unable to serve the people they are intended to protect and hold back technology development. The 2018 update exists to make it easier for organizations both comply with and understand Section 508 requirements.

The main changes in the 2018 update include:

  • Applying Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 to the law; WCAG 2.0 has been updated to WCAG 2.1 since.
  • Shifting focus to qualitative functionality for how well ICT works with people with disabilities.
  • Requiring functionality even when assistive technology is used like screen reader accessibility software.
  • Requiring the concept of digital accessibility extend to people with cognitive, learning, and language abilities instead of just vision, hearing, and physical disabilities.

Section 508 compliance extends to more than just web accessibility and software: the entity’s publicly accessible blogs and social media posts must all be compliant as well. In other cases, information that isn’t publicly accessible might be 508 compliance-required as well. The 2018 update specifies people with disabilities must have full access things like intranets, emergency bulletins, official receipts, training materials, employment opportunities, and other electronic communication.

What If You’re Not 508 Compliant?

People with disabilities can file a demand letter when your entity isn’t in compliance with Section 508. If the situation escalates, your business may face a web accessibility lawsuit. Additionally, your business could miss out on opportunities to work with the government because the government is barred from using any ICT offered by a non-compliant company.

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.6 Failure to comply with ADA regulations can lead to litigation from people with disabilities unable to use a website or other ICT. In addition to legal issues and loss of business, it’s ultimately frustrating for people with disabilities to use ICT that isn’t fully accessible. Being able to boast how your ICT follows ADA standards by including features like alternative text, accessible PDF functionality, and a voluntary product accessibility template can actually help bring in more business.7 An accessibility statement can also  be very positive for your organization’s reputation.

Achieving 508 Compliance

Unfortunately, improving your digital accessibility may not be as easy as flipping a switch. However, every business has the capacity to improve accessibility and seize new opportunities. A firm with experience in 508 compliance (such as yours truly) can help ease the process through running accessibility audits and accessibility training. Experts can look through all your digital properties including your website, mobile apps, and software with an accessibility checker as well as through user-testing by people who use assistive technology in order to evaluate where you can improve. Additionally, an accessibility partner can monitor your ICT moving forward to ensure any changes you make still follow ADA guidelines. A truly reliable accessibility partner will offer a comprehensive accessibility management platform to keep up with Section 508 and ADA accessibility.

In addition, the U.S Access Board also offers valuable Section 508-related resources via its Section 508 Best Practices Webinar Series.8 These webinars focus on changes and updates to Section 508, and allow you to view archived events to catch up on ones you’ve missed.

If your organization currently works with the federal government or aspires to do so in the future, Section 508 and ADA website compliance will have you on the right track. Your business has a lot to gain by being Section 508 compliant and a lot to lose by not being in compliance.

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 ADA Compliance 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.

Finally, 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.

References

  1. A Hidden Market: The Purchasing Power of Working-Age Adults With Disabilities, American Institutes for Research, 2018
  2. Americans with Disabilities Act: Title III Regulations, ADA, 2010
  3. California Government Code’s Section 11135, Onecle, 2016.
  4. Illinois Information Technology Accessibility Act (IITAA) Illinois Department of Human Services.
  5. Accessibility News: The Section 508 Update, Section508.gov
  6. About the AODA, Accessibility Services Canada, 2017
  7. Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT), Section 508, 2018
  8. Webinars, United States Access Board

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