The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 was a groundbreaking moment for disability rights. However, it wasn’t the first law of its kind: the US government had already taken action to protect people with disabilities via the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
The Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities by any program receiving US federal funding. The legislation was later amended in 1998 to include Section 508, which requires US federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities, including both employees and members of the public.
Because digital technologies such as websites and mobile apps play such a vital role in people’s lives — including the 1 in 4 US adults with a disability — making them accessible is more important than ever before. If your organization is a US federal agency or contractor, then under the terms of Section 508 you must make your website and other information technology accessible to people with disabilities.
What does Section 508 cover?
As of January 2018, federal agencies and contractors must meet revised Section 508 accessibility requirements for information and communication technology (ICT), which were updated to catch up to evolving digital capabilities.
In general, all electronic content, and all hardware and software with a user interface, must be accessible. While the ICT refresh of Section 508 is too lengthy to discuss here in full detail, below is a brief sample of some of the software and hardware requirements:
- Color coding or audio signals cannot be the only way of conveying information.
- Biometrics cannot be the only method for users to identify themselves or control the system.
- Software and hardware must support user controls for closed captions and audio descriptions.
What are the accessibility standards for Section 508 compliance testing?
One of the victories of the revised Section 508 standards is that the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 A/AA are explicitly stated as the formal accessibility requirements. In order to be sure that your organization’s website is compliant with Section 508, you need to test in accordance to these popular, well-established standards.
The Section 508 website provides a dedicated page on Section 508 compliance testing, including testing guidelines for websites, software, and electronic documents. Any truly comprehensive testing plan must include both automated and manual testing, preferably including testers with disabilities. Automated tests can process large quantities of content extremely quickly, but they cannot catch everything or apply the same subjective judgments that human testers can.
Read: Is automated testing enough for accessibility compliance?
In addition to federal government regulations under Section 508, there may also be state-specific laws and policies on accessibility.
Is your organization compliant with Section 508?
Section 508 requirements need to be taken seriously, but it’s important to know they can be met with a combination of the right testing and remediation practices. To learn more about your obligations under Section 508 and how we can help you meet those obligations, talk to us. Or, get started with a free and confidential website accessibility scan.