Section 508 Compliance for Web Accessibility

Web accessibility laws, regulations, and guidelines aim to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to various digital platforms, products, and services that public and private organizations provide. One of these key legislations is Section 508.

What Is Section 508 Compliance, and Who Should Follow the Requirements?

Section 508 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Congress amended that law in 1998 to require all Federal agencies in the United States to ensure their electronic and information technology (EIT), also referred to as information and communication technology (ICT), is accessible to all people with disabilities, including disabled employees and public members.

Section 508 aims to protect all people’s rights, regardless of their capabilities, and provide equal opportunities in various aspects of life. It requires agencies to provide accessible Federal electronic content.

It is one of the first significant federal laws that addresses disability rights and set the stage of subsequent legislation. The United States Access Board is considering developing accessibility standards for information and communication technology (ICT) to incorporate into regulations that govern Federal procurement practices.

Why Is It Important?

Worldwide, there are millions of people with disabilities who face various barriers in their everyday lives.

According to the HHS (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), there are:

  • About 285 million people with visual impairments;
  • About 275 million people with hearing impairments;
  • Million people with other types of disabilities, such as physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological impairments.

Providing web accessibility means that all these people will have access to information and communication technology regardless of their capabilities. They will experience no difficulties in using any digital platform.

Whether it is a Federal agency or private organization, web accessibility ensures easy public access not only for people with disabilities but for other users as well.

Website accessibility is associated with improving user experience, reaching a wider audience, increasing website traffic, enhancing reputation, and building more trust.

How Many Criteria Are There?

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act specifies technical accessibility standards based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.00 Level AA. They define criteria for ensuring EIT to be accessible to people with disabilities. It covers color contrast, alternative text, font size, captions and transcriptions, readability, etc.

In addition to that, all Federal agencies must meet the Section 508 accessibility standards, which include procuring accessible technology, designing and developing accessible digital content, and providing accommodations or alternatives when necessary.

2017 Revision of the Rehabilitation Act

In January 2017, the United States Access Board published an updated version of the accessibility requirements for information and communication technology (ICT) covered under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Some of the key changes include the following:

  • Adoption of WCAG 2.0: The updated Section 508 standards incorporate the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA as technical requirements for web and digital accessibility. WCAG 2.0 is a globally recognized standard developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). This alignment with WCAG 2.0 provides a more robust and comprehensive framework for ensuring accessibility.
  • Expanded Scope: The updated standards broaden the scope of ICT covered under Section 508. It includes various technologies, such as software applications, websites, electronic documents, multimedia, and telecommunications. It ensures that all forms of digital content and technology provided by federal agencies are accessible to individuals with disabilities.
  • Functional Performance Criteria: The final rule introduces the concept of Functional Performance Criteria (FPC) as an alternative to achieving accessibility. FPC focuses on the desired functional outcome of an ICT rather than specifying technical requirements. It allows for flexibility in meeting accessibility objectives accommodating technological advancements and innovations.
  • Compatibility with International Standards: The updated Section 508 aligns more closely with international accessibility standards, including WCAG 2.0. This alignment aims to facilitate consistency with global accessibility requirements, making it easier for organizations to meet accessibility obligations across different jurisdictions.
  • Updated Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards (ICT Refresh): The revised Section 508 standards are part of the ICT Refresh initiative, which also includes updates to the standards for telecommunications products covered by Section 255 of the Communications Act. This effort aims to synchronize accessibility requirements and streamline compliance for covered entities.

The changes in the updated Section 508 standards help to enhance accessibility, improve usability, and ensure equal access to ICT for people, regardless of their capabilities. By aligning with WCAG 2.0 and broadening the scope of covered technologies, the updated standards sought to promote greater inclusivity and accessibility in the digital realm.

What Happens if Your Website Isn’t 508 Compliant?

Non-compliance with the standards and requirements included in Section 508 is a legal violation. The U.S. Federal agencies that fail to comply are subject to penalties, such as fines and lawsuits.

When your website does not meet the requirements of Section 508 and other regulations, it may not be accessible to people with disabilities. It damages your reputation, and your website loses the authority it has built.

How to Check Your Website?

To check if your website has accessibility issues, we recommend using an accessibility checker. It will scan all web pages and provide an analysis with information about any existing errors.

Using the tool will ensure that your website complies with all applicable web accessibility laws, regulations, and standards, as well as protect you from legal violations.

How to Make Your Website 508-Compliant?

The best way to get your website 508-compliant is by following the specified standards.

It includes, but is not limited to:

  • Adding alt text to all images and buttons;
  • Adding captions and transcriptions for audio and video content;
  • Providing appropriate contrast between text and background;
  • Using a font that is easy to read;
  • Using headings in the content;
  • Creating short and understandable paragraphs;
  • Adding the most important content at the beginning of the page, etc.

Nowadays, assistive technology is also becoming more and more critical. Its purpose is to provide a proper format to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of people with disabilities. It includes on-screen keyboards, text-to-speech and speech-to-text converters, screen magnifiers, etc.

Differences Between Section 508 Compliance and Aoda Compliance

There are several laws related to accessibility for disabled people.

Among the most recognizable are:

Concerning the difference between Section 508 and AODA, it comes in their scope.

Section 508 applies to the United States Federal agencies. It must provide equal access to all electronic and information technology (EIT). It must be accessible to all Americans with disabilities.

On the other hand, AODA compliance is an accessibility law that helps all Ontarians with disabilities have equal access to every aspect of their everyday life.

Why Trust Qualibooth for Your Accessibility Success?

QualiBooth software aims to help you build a web-accessible online platform, whether you offer products or services or maintain an informative online channel.

Our mission is to make the digital world accessible to people with disabilities so they can be fully integrated into everyday life. It enables them to access various websites and have equal rights with other people.

What sets our accessibility checker apart is:

  • Easy installation of the software in a few minutes;
  • Precise scanning every time a user visits a web page;
  • Analysis of website performance according to all web accessibility laws, regulations, and standards;
  • In-depth report on the accessibility issues;
  • Continuous monitoring of the entire website.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does Section 508 compliance mean?

Section 508 is a part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The section was created to protect the rights of people with disabilities by giving them equal access to everything in every aspect of life.

Do private companies need to be 508 compliant?

It requires all Federal agencies in the United States to provide equal access to their electronic and information technology. However, private companies must comply with the requirements to provide equal access to their online platforms for people with disabilities.

Who benefits from Section 508 compliance?

All people who have some kind of disability, whether visual, hearing, physical, speech, cognitive, or neurological impairments.