What is Section 508 Compliance?
Section 508 requires that when Federal agencies develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology, Federal employees with disabilities have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access and use by Federal employees who are not individuals with disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the agency. Section 508 also requires that individuals with disabilities, who are members of the public seeking information or services from a Federal agency, have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to that provided to the public who are not individuals with disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the agency.
On January 18, 2017, the Access Board published a final rule that jointly updates requirements for information and communication technology (ICT) covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 255 of the Communication Act. The Section 508 Standards apply to electronic and information technology procured by the federal government, including computer hardware and software, websites, multimedia such as video, phone systems, etc. The Section 255 Guidelines address access to telecommunications products and services and apply to manufacturers of telecommunication equipment.
The final rule jointly updates and reorganizes the Section 508 standards and Section 255 guidelines in response to market trends and innovations, such as the convergence of technologies. The refresh also harmonizes these requirements with other guidelines and standards both in the U.S. and abroad, including standards issued by the European Commission and with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a globally recognized voluntary consensus standard for web content and ICT.
508 compliance: Who needs to be compliant?
If you’ve heard the terms “Section 508” or “508 compliance” and wondered what they mean, you’re not alone. Briefly put, Section 508 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and has undergone several strengthening refreshes over the years. The most recent of these was in 2017. The 508 standards and guidelines ensure that information and communications covered by Section 508 are accessible to individuals with disabilities.
That explanation might leave you with more questions. What exactly does that mean for your business? And how do you know if your business is affected? And if it is, how can you make sure you are in compliance?
It’s helpful to start with a more in-depth explanation of what Section 508 is.
Is Section 508 compliance your job?
Do you work in finance, banking, HR, healthcare, customer service, legal, or other industries and are in a position that requires you to communicate with people? If you answered yes, then Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act applies to you.
If you have a customer base or you work with federal agencies, or hope to, then you need to be 508 compliant. Being 508 compliant ensures that all of your customers and your clients have equal access to the materials which your company produces.
What documents fall under Section 508?
Any and all digital communications that a company under Section 508 jurisdiction creates must be 508 compliant. This includes website content, emails, computer software, gaming systems, apps, and PDF versions of traditionally printed assets.
What Can a Section 508 Compliance Partner Do?
When you contract an accessibility partner to perform Section 508 compliance testing for your organization, you’ll notice that the testing is much more extensive than what most people are able to do themselves – with results that are a lot more detailed.
Let’s say you happened to be looking over the shoulder of a certified 508 compliance expert. Here’s what you’d see them doing:
- Using a combination of automated 508 compliance testing tools and manual checking for individual web pages, documents and applications.
- Having users (people with disabilities) of assistive technologies, such as JAWS, test for inaccessibility.
- Testing individual website functions such as online forms or product purchases, among others.
- Producing an in-depth report that not only gives an overall rating of the level of Section 508 compliance, but also identifies, explains and provides code-level solutions for individual violations of Section 508 regulations.
- Ensuring reports are jargon-free so they can be understood, and providing personal interaction with experts who can discuss the reports and answer questions.
- Offering remediation, including periodic monitoring, and providing status reports as improvements are made.
It’s safe to say that a qualified accessibility partner is pretty thorough! When it comes to the list of disability barriers that are found this way, there’s no “maybe” about them, since they’ve been tested and verified by a human expert.
That’s another advantage over automated compliance testing software, which often generates a list of “possible” barriers in addition to actual ones. This process may misidentify problems where none exist, causing confusion and wasted time.
When you have expert help, however, you can be confident that you’ve put the best possible effort into Section 508 compliance testing of your electronic and information technology.