Section 508 Rehabilitation Act Refresh
On January 18, 2017, revised ICT standards and guidelines created by the U.S. Access Board (generally referred to as the “Section 508 Refresh” or “the Refresh”) were published in the Federal Register. The revised standards and guidelines modernize the approach of standards application, and harmonize with international voluntary consensus standards and Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act.
The updated standards reflect changes in the technology landscape due to development of new technologies, the convergence of technologies and the increasingly multi-functional capabilities of products such as smart phones. The Refresh broadly maintains the current structure of the requirements with technical and functional standards, but arranges the technical standards around product features rather than types of products. The Section 508 revised standards bring harmonization with international standards, most notably the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0), which are incorporated by reference. This means WCAG 2.0 conformance requirements are used to measure compliance of documents, web content, and software (when applicable) for Section 508. In addition, for software and mobile apps, the World Wide Web Consortium’s Guidance on applying WCAG 2.0 to Non-web ICT needs to be taken into consideration when determining compliance with the Section 508 Rehabilitation Act.
Federal agencies must comply with the new Section 508 standards by January 18, 2018, one year following the publication of the standards. A safe harbor has been created for ICT that is used, maintained, or developed after January 18, 2018 and already complies with the current Section 508 standards. As long as the ICT has not been altered in a way that affects the user interface, data, or interoperability it will not have to follow the revised standards. When ICT is altered, the component that was altered will have to meet the revised standards while the unaltered components would continue to fall under the safe harbor.