There’s sometimes a lot of confusion between the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) digital compliance and Section 508 compliance. Some of this can be explained by the skyrocketing interest in issues regarding digital accessibility for persons with disabilities. Also, some high profile lawsuits have shown how non-compliance can seriously affect any business.
Let’s take a look at ADA compliance vs. Section 508 compliance to gain a better understanding behind the issues.
What Do ADA Compliance & Section 508 Have in Common?
Both the ADA and Section 508 are US federal government regulations concerned with making electronic and information technology accessible to people with physical, sensory, or cognitive disabilities.
The ADA is under the authority of the US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. Section 508 was created by the United States Access Board. Both are concerned with promoting access and minimizing discrimination in a variety of contexts.
According to the ADA website, “The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.”
In modern times, these “public and private” places also include online destinations which can include websites, apps, software, and video games. Both the ADA and Section 508 have recommendations about these kinds of accessibility issues.
How Are Section 508 & the ADA Different?
The ADA is concerned with preventing all kinds of discrimination. So issues such as civic access, equal employment opportunity, and access to healthcare are also part of the ADA law. It also deals with digital and informational accessibility issues.
Section 508 (and it’s refresh in 2017) has a more narrow scope. It applies to accessibility-related to electronic and information technology procured by the federal government. The technology can include computer hardware and software, websites, phone systems, and copiers.
So the main difference is that Section 508 applies only to federal agencies and any organization that does business with a federal agency, such as private contractors, the financial industry, healthcare, legal entities, and others.
How Can a Business or Organization Stay Compliant?
The ADA and Section 508 differ in their published compliance guidance. The ADA offers some technical assistance and guidance, however, the information is not in-depth. Plus, it hasn’t been updated since 2007.
For example, one of the ADA publications says, “If you use online forms and tables, make those elements accessible.” But it doesn’t clearly define how to do this. It also doesn’t explain exactly what makes a form or table accessible. One interesting tactic used by the ADA is to refer to Section 508 for guidance on how to remain compliant.
Section 508, in contrast, provides guidance at a much more sophisticated level. For example, in the section about Web-based Intranet and Internet Information and Applications (1194.22), you find a discussion about the user experience and even examples of source code that developers can use. In fact, the entire section contains over 6800 words of text to provide detailed examples of best practice application compliance.
Compliance Does Not Have To Be Complex
Having a solid, organized digital accessibility plan is important to all organizations these days. If you are a federal agency or engage with one on a regular basis, the Section 308 guidelines should be followed. Even if you aren’t working with the government, accessibility should still be part of your digital game plan to stay in compliance with the ADA.
Many companies have decided to seek expert help in handling compliance issues. This tends to minimize both the cost and risk, rather than trying to tackle the issue in-house.