Section 504 Compliance


Section 504 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits any organization that receives federal funding from discriminating on the basis of disability. These organizations include universities, public and private schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and more. According to Section 504, they may not exclude or deny individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in or have access to program benefits or services, which include websites and digital content.


Although 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 – or WCAG – establishes the baseline for digital accessibility. If your digital assets conform with WCAG, you’re compliant with Section 504.


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Understanding WCAG

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:

  • Perceivable = It’s important to present information that can be perceived in different ways, where a user can adjust color contrast or font size, or view captions for videos.
  • Operable = If someone can’t use a mouse, for example, they can use a keyboard or voice command.
  • Understandable = Information and instructions are clear and navigation methods are easy to understand and use.
  • Robust = Content must be robust enough so that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of users and types of assistive technologies.

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 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.

How well is your site meeting WCAG standards?

Download our WCAG Checklist

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Evaluating your digital assets for Section 504 compliance

Level Access helps organizations that receive federal funding meet Section 504 compliance. Our Accessibility-as-a-Service approach provides all of the tools, expertise, training, and support needed to achieve compliance for websites, mobile apps, and products, all in a simple annual subscription.

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Request a free risk assessment

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

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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.

Does Section 504 apply to more than education?

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

What is the difference between ADA and Section 504?

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.