Ok, so you’ve started studying up on website accessibility, and you think you’re getting the hang of it… and then you start reading about something called Section 508.
Now you’re confused – what’s Section 508, and how is it different than all of the other standards set out by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)?
What is Section 508?
Section 508 is an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, approved by the U.S. Congress in 1998.
The Rehabilitation Act (29 U.S.C § 794 (d), if you want to read it yourself) requires “…Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities.”
What does that actually mean?
In a nutshell, federal agencies have to make sure anyone can work for them or view their content, including people with disabilities.
Any technology the government develops internally or any it acquires for regular use in its day-to-day operations is required to be accessible to the disabled, or the government is required to provide an accessible alternative.
Similarly, any website administered by or for the federal government for official purposes must be Section 508 compliant.
Section 508 Website Standards
There are a variety of technical standards laid out by Section 508, many of which revolve around accessibility for government employees.
These standards range from requirements for software and hardware the government provides to those with disabilities to web accessibility guidelines for government intranets.
The rest of Section 508’s requirements relate to providing access to the general public to official information, especially as it pertains to web accessibility.
Some of these accessibility requirements include:
- Text descriptions for any visuals accessible to screen readers and similar technology
- Captioning and audio description options for multimedia products
- Websites and software are accessible using keyboard navigation
If these requirements look familiar, it’s with good reason.
In January 2017, the U.S. Access Board updated Section 508 to bring it in line with developments in technology and, more specifically, harmonize its requirements with WCAG.
So Section 508 only applies to the Federal Government, right?
It is true that Section 508 only officially regulates the federal government and federal agencies.
The U.S. Access Board states in a FAQ that Section 508 does not regulate the private sector, nor does it apply to companies who receive government funds…
Unless the website/technology is being provided as part of a government contract.
How that works will vary a bit depending on what your company is actually doing for the government though.
After all, since when is anything in business so simple that there is a one-size-fits-all answer?
How does Section 508 affect my business?
So here’s the short version:
- If your company is or plans to be a technology vendor for the government, there’s a good chance you’ll need to make your product Section 508 compliant.
- If you are overseeing a contract for the government that involves technology or technology services, anything technological related to that contract will need to be Section 508 compliant.
- If part of your contract is to create/maintain/oversee a website for the federal government, that website will have to be Section 508 and WCAG compliant
Don’t stress about it though – it’s not as much work as it sounds!
If your site is already following the WCAG guidelines, then you are probably already Section 508 compliant!
Go ahead and enjoy a well-deserved pat on the back.
Even if you’re not WCAG compliant though, you have a simple starting point – only the parts of your company, website, or technology that are directly related to your work with the government are required to be Section 508 compliant.
That’s right, to be Section 508 compliant, only the site or portions of your site that is used for official government business or overseen on behalf of the government have to be accessible.
So go ahead and bid on that sweet government contract, but don’t fire your developers just yet.
Web Accessibility is a requirement under the ADA
Here’s the important thing to remember; even if your business is not subject to Section 508, you still have to make your website WCAG compliant.
The ADA requires that all public websites be accessible to the disabled, and it makes sense for every brand and website to be ADA compliant.
More importantly to your bottom line, businesses are increasingly being sued under the ADA for their websites not being accessible, a trend that is likely to increase after a recent Supreme Court ruling.
We get it, updating a website to make it ADA and WCAG compliant could be expensive if your business hasn’t focused on it before now.
But if you are successfully sued over it, you’ll most likely have to pay your court fees, the plaintiff’s court fees, damages… and be ordered to make your site compliant.
When put that way, it just makes a lot more sense to do it now, doesn’t it?
We can help improve your accessibility today!
Whether you are looking for general ADA/WCAG compliance or Section 508 compliance specifically, we’ve got you covered!
For some quick fixes and guidelines, check out the WCAG and our guide to Web Accessibility in 5 Simple Steps!
Still need help? Let us guide you!
Sign up for our FREE homepage accessibility scan, and we will audit your homepage and give you a report to get you started!
You can also install our FREE accessibility widget to your site, no coding required! This amazing tool adds easy visual tools to help them navigate their site, no matter their disability.
Need a more in-depth solution? Talk to one of our consultants today! 1-877-786-4269