A Quick Guide to Section 508 Compliance

Give us five minutes and we’ll fill you in on Section 508 compliance for things like documents, websites, apps, software, and hardware. You’ll learn what products need to meet 508 compliance standards, how to report 508 compliance, why being compliant with Section 508 is important, and how you can achieve good legal standing (and better sales!) for your technology.

Ready to start your 5-minute timer? Let’s go!

What is Section 508 of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973?

The Rehabilitation Act was originally signed into law in 1973. It prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in programs and services run by the federal government or its contractors.

The Rehabilitation Act was passed long before modern technology. (Fun fact: the video game Pong was released in 1972.) Section 508 was added in 1998—and refreshed in 2018—to ensure that access to technology was included.

Legalese can be boring but we make it as painless as possible to learn what you need to know to protect your organization.

Does Section 508 require me to have accessible technology?

Yes—if you are a federal agency or run a program for the federal government.

Section 508 covers technology procured by a federal agency under contract with a private entity or produced within the agency itself. It applies to all Electronic and Information Technology (EIT) including software, web sites, web applications, and hardware applications such as computers, networks, peripherals, and other types of electronic office equipment. EIT is defined as “any equipment or interconnected system or subsystem of equipment that is used in the automatic acquisition, storage, manipulation, management, movement, control, display, switching, interchange, transmission, or reception of data or information.”

Why does my organization need Section 508 compliant technology?

Being 508 compliant is the law. Unlike ADA compliance for technology, which isn’t written verbatim into the law, Section 508 compliance is the law for government agencies and contractors.

Being 508 compliant increases the number of people you reach. Estimates are that 1 in 5 Americans has a disability that affects their daily life. Technology is a big part of daily life.

Being 508 compliant makes it easier to sell your goods and services. If you want to sell technology to the federal government or one of its contractors, you will need a conformance report showing your product’s Section 508 compliance.

Being 508 compliant is the right thing to do. Assistive technology helps people with disabilities use technology. All we need to do as creators is ensure that we meet WCAG standards. When we meet accessibility standards, we include people with disabilities in everything great about modern life.

Curious about the reasons your peers and competitors gave for prioritizing 508 compliance? We can tell you!

By what standards does Section 508 grade accessibility?

Section 508 uses the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). WCAG has four main principles:

Your content is perceivable. Everything can be perceived in more than one way. If someone cannot see, written content can be read by a screen reader. If someone cannot hear, audio content has captions.

Your content is operable. Everything can be operated in more than one way. If someone cannot use a mouse or touchpad, they can navigate by keyboard or by voice command software. If someone moves or reads slowly, they can request additional time to complete a task.

Your content is understandable. Everything can be understood. If someone clicks on a navigation menu, it behaves like a navigation menu. If a button says, “Read More” it does what you expect it to do. If an error is made on a form, an error message points out the location of the error and suggests how to fix it.

Your content is robust. Everything can roll up to the newest and shiniest hardware and not break.

Where else will I see benefits from Section 508 compliance?

Accessibility best practices help more people than you may realize. How often do you watch videos on your phone without the sound? Do you ever pinch the screen to zoom in on an image on your iPad? Have you had carpal tunnel syndrome and needed to cut back on typing?

Accessibility and good user experience go hand-in-hand. When you optimize the experience to include as many people as possible, you will implement improvements that benefit everyone.

If you’re ready to find untapped revenue through Section 508 compliance, we can help!

people with different abilities using technology

How do people with disabilities use technology?

The answer: Assistive Technology (AT)

AT is a broad term referring to hardware or software that enables people with various disabilities to access technology, bridging the gap between a person’s abilities and the content they want to access.

You can learn more about how individuals with disabilities interact with web and mobile technology in the Understanding Assistive Technology article series.

How do I test my website for Section 508 compliance?

If you’ve never tested your site before – or you’ve only used free tools – you will want to set up an audit with an accessibility expert. During the audit process, there will be automated testing, manual testing, and functional testing by people with disabilities.

At the end of the audit process, you will receive a report with your overall level of Section 508 compliance and a list of accessibility issues that need remediation. Depending on your relationship with your vendor, they can provide training or helpdesk support, or even code side-by-side with your developers.

Contact us to get a free risk assessment (mini audit) of your website

More Resources

Companies who followed these steps reduced lawsuits risk by 95%.

Reporting Accessibility with VPAT 2: A Guide for Vendors

Webinar

Join Chief Accessibility Officer Jonathan Avila discussed: An overview of the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) format, Accessibility standards covered and relation to international regulations, Creating an accessibility conformance report using the VPAT 2 format, How to use the VPAT 2 with different product types, Best practices for maintaining and updating your VPAT annually, & The benefits of having a 3rd party create your VPAT vs. doing it in house

Navigating VPAT 2: A Guide for Vendors

Whitepaper

The landscape of digital accessibility has changed quite a bit since the original Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) was created in 2001. The updated VPAT 2 format offers multiple templates, allowing vendors to document conformance with several common standards including the refreshed Section 508, WCAG 2.1, and EN 301 549 for vendors who sell into Europe or Australia.

How to get a VPAT?

Article

The Voluntary Product Accessibility Template or VPAT is a document template created by the Information Technology Industry Council (ITIC) and used by various organizations to report the level of compliance of their software products to interested parties – generally U.S. Federal Government agencies.

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