What is Section 508 Compliance?

By BrainStation April 17, 2019

We’ve written about why companies should be investing in web accessibility, and if you’ve embarked on that process, you might have heard the terms “Section 508” or “508 compliance.” If you’re not sure what that means, you’re not alone.

Let’s take a closer look at Section 508 compliance.

What is Section 508?

Section 508 officially refers to a series of amendments made to the US Rehabilitation Act of 1973. These amendments, made in 1986 and 1998, require federal agencies to make their information and communications technology (ICT) accessible to people with disabilities.

Access to these materials must be in a “comparable manner to the access experienced by employees and members of the public without disabilities.”

The guidelines affect all federal agencies and vendors, contractors, and partners of those agencies and require them to “develop, procure, maintain, and use” ICT that is accessible to people with disabilities – regardless of whether or not they work for the federal government.

The amendments also created enforcement measures to ensure compliance.

What Does ICT Cover?

Officially, ICT includes “information technology and other equipment, systems, technologies, or processes, for which the principal function is the creation, manipulation, storage, display, receipt, or transmission of electronic data and information, as well as any associated content.”

This obviously covers a lot of ground, so for clarity sake, here are some examples of what ICT includes:

  • Call centers
  • Copiers
  • DVDs and CDs
  • Internet and intranet sites
  • Laptops
  • Online training
  • PDF documents
  • Remote accessibility
  • Software
  • Telephones and smartphones
  • Tablets
  • Televisions
  • User guides and manuals
  • Webinars and teleconferencing

These types of tools and platforms are included so that federal employees with disabilities are able to do their work and access relevant resources. To that end, the guidelines were given updated in 2017 to better reflect innovations in communication technology.

Laws and Amendments Related to Section 508

If Section 508 does not apply, you may still be required to adhere to related guidelines and laws, including:

  • Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act, which prevents discriminating against disabled employees. It also protects individuals who are looking for work.  
  • Section 504, which prohibits discrimination of disabled people by federal agencies and recipients of federal assistance.
  • Section 505, which is closely related to Section 501 in preventing employers from discriminating against disabled employees.

There are also other prominent laws that are associated with the amendments above:

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities.
  • Section 255 of The Communications Act, which requires telecommunications products and services to be accessible to all disabled people.
  • The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, requiring advanced communications services and products to be accessible by disabled.

Given the number of guidelines and laws in place, it’s a good idea to invest in web accessibility. Apart from adhering with the law, it’s simply good business. Nearly 19 percent of Americans have some form of disability, and when you fail to accommodate these users, you are limiting the size and scope of your audience.

Learn more with BrainStation’s Web Accessibility training courses