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Section 504 Compliance

From schools and universities to healthcare facilities, federally funded organizations in the U.S. are required by law to ensure digital accessibility. That’s because of Section 504 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits any organization that receives federal government funding from discriminating on the basis of disability. Specifically, Section 504 mandates that individuals with disabilities are given an equal opportunity to access program benefits or services, including websites and digital content.

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Web accessibility and Section 504

Although Section 504 does not directly address web accessibility, confirms compliance requirements include accessible digital assets: “Section 504 prohibits discrimination based on disability by federal agencies and recipients of federal assistance. In this instance, accessibility applies to facilities, and communications such as websites. So, if your organization receives federal funding or assistance, your website is required to be accessible. You may also want to consult your funding agencies to determine the requirement to make your websites and other communications accessible. When in doubt, design for accessibility.”

WCAG: The standard for Section 504 compliance

Conformance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) establishes the baseline for Section 504 compliance. WCAG is a set of technical guidelines that make digital content accessible for individuals with disabilities. These standards suggest a site should be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust for every user of every ability. Updates to WCAG are reflected in the version number. For example, the first release was WCAG 1.0. Subsequent releases include 2.0, 2.1, and 2.2. There are also three levels of WCAG conformance: A, AA, and AAA, with A representing minimum conformance and AAA representing maximum. Compliance with Section 504 means conformance with WCAG 2.0 AA. However, you may want to consider conformance with WCAG 2.1 AA, which reflects updated standards for tablet and mobile devices, and WCAG 2.2 AA, which reflects updated standards for authentication and redundant entry. Not only will you still meet the requirements of WCAG 2.0, you’ll provide a better user experience for those using their mobile devices, and you’ll remain in compliance if requirements are updated.

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How to ensure Section 504 compliance

A third-party accessibility expert can help you evaluate your level of conformance with WCAG, identify and prioritize issues, and implement tools and processes needed for lasting compliance. Level Access has extensive experience helping federally funded organizations meet the accessibility requirements of Section 504.Our holistic approach combines advanced software with the market’s deepest bench of expertise, equipping teams with the technology, training, and support needed to achieve compliance for websites, apps, and other digital products.

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Our risk assessment will help you understand your digital accessibility health score and your current level of Section 504 compliance.

Frequently asked questions

What is the difference between Section 504 and special education?

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a law that applies to organizations that receive federal funding. Universities and schools are among recipients of federal funding and are required to comply with Section 504. Compliance includes ensuring websites and digital content are accessible for all users.

However, Section 504 is just one of several accessibility laws that apply to education providers. Another is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which ensures students with a disability have access to a free public education to meet their needs.

The term “special education” is instruction that is specifically designed to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability.

Section 504 applies to any organization that receives federal funding, which includes universities, hospitals, nursing homes, and more.

Section 504 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and prohibits any organization that receives federal funding from discriminating on the basis of disability. Organizations include schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and more.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, is a broad U.S. civil rights law passed in 1990 that protects people from being discriminated against on the basis of disability. The ADA applies to both the private and public sectors, not just organizations that receive federal funding.