​​​​Section 508 Compliance

Section 508 and website accessibility

 

If you’re a federal agency, it’s a legal requirement to comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 508 requires federal agencies to create, buy and use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) that’s accessible to people with disabilities. This includes all pages of your website, software, applications, intranet sites and tools, and electronic documents.

 

Failure to make your digital assets -or ICT- accessible is failure to comply with Section 508. And non-compliance not only presents a legal risk, but, as a vendor selling to the federal government, it can also impact your profitability.

 

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Risks of non-compliance

Federal agencies can be sued for non-compliance with Section 508, and several have, including The Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of Education, and the Social Security Administration.

In the private sector, neglect to comply with Section 508, and you’re putting your contracts at risk. Vendors doing business with the federal government must demonstrate proof that their digital products are accessible. That proof comes in the form of a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template, or VPAT. A VPAT is a document that details how ICT products and services, such as software, meet 508 standards for accessibility.

eSSENTIAL Accessibility experts are experienced in assessing accessibility and completing VPATs.

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How do you make your website and other ICT compliant with Section 508?

In 2018, a refresh of Section 508 adopted the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as the required web accessibility standard. More specifically, ICT must conform with WCAG 2.0 AA.

What is WCAG:

WCAG is a set of technical guidelines that, when followed, make digital content accessible for individuals with disabilities. At a high level, WCAG standards suggest a site should be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust for every user of every ability.

Updates to WCAG are reflected in the version number. For example, the first release was WCAG 1.0. Subsequent releases include 2.0, 2.1, and we anticipate 2.2 updates in the coming months.

There are three levels of WCAG conformance: A, AA, and AAA:

  • Level A = minimum WCAG conformance has been met, with web page and content satisfying all Level A success criteria (or a conforming alternate version is provided)
  • Level AA = the web page satisfies all WCAG Level A and Level AA Success Criteria (or a Level AA conforming alternate version is provided)
  • Level AAA = the web page satisfies all the Level A, Level AA and Level AAA Success Criteria (or a Level AAA conforming alternate version is provided)

Because global regulations, including Section 508, reference WCAG, it has become the international standard for web accessibility. Compliance with Section 508 requires conformance with WCAG 2.0 Level AA.

Frequently asked questions

What is Section 508 compliance?

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires federal agencies to create, buy, and use information and communication technology (ICT) that's accessible. ICT includes software and websites, electronic documents (such as PDFs), multimedia content, phones, call centers, and more. Specifically, Section 508 evaluates web accessibility according to the success criteria of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA. That means to be compliant with Section 508, federal agencies, and those doing business with federal agencies, must make sure their ICT conforms with WCAG 2.0 AA.

Does Section 508 apply to state agencies?

While Section 508 is a federal law, there may be implications for employees and agencies at the state level. Consult the Section 508 website to learn more about implications for state agencies and whether your state has enacted its own ICT accessibility laws.

Does Section 508 apply to the private sector?

Private sector organizations contracting with federal agencies are also required to comply with Section 508, ensuring any ICT they provide a federal agency is accessible.

What is Section 508 compliance testing?

Section 508 compliance testing is the process of checking information and communication technology (ICT) to ensure it is accessible. ICT includes all pages of your website, software, applications, intranet sites and tools, and electronic documents. Section 508 defines web accessibility as conforming to the success criteria outlined in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA. Therefore, to comply with Section 508, ICT should conform with WCAG.

What is the difference between ADA and Section 508?

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act is a U.S. federal law that mandates that federal agencies create and use information and communications technology (ICT) that is accessible to people with disabilities. Section 508 applies to federal agencies and departments, ensuring all people with disabilities can use federal agency resources. It also applies to any vendors selling ICT to a federal agency.

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