​​​​Section 508 Compliance

 

For federal agencies in the U.S., it’s a legal requirement to comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 508 requires federal agencies to create, buy, and use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) that is accessible to people with disabilities. This includes all pages of your agency website, software, applications, intranet sites and tools, and electronic documents.

 

Vendors doing business with the federal government must demonstrate proof that their digital products are accessible. That proof comes in the form of a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template, or VPAT®. A VPAT is a document that details how ICT products and services, such as software, meet 508 standards for accessibility.

 

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Risks of non-compliance with Section 508

Federal agencies can be sued for non-compliance with Section 508, and several have, including The Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of Education, and the Social Security Administration.

In the private sector, neglect to comply with Section 508 accessibility standards, and you’re putting your existing contracts at risk, and potentially missing out on new business opportunities.

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Conceptual image of a gavel surrounded by error messages

How do you make your website and other ICT compliant with Section 508?

In 2018, a refresh of Section 508 adopted the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as the required web accessibility standard. More specifically, ICT must conform with WCAG 2.0 AA. A great way to get started on your path to Section 508 compliance is with a WCAG checklist.

What is WCAG:

WCAG is a set of technical guidelines that, when followed, make digital content accessible for individuals with disabilities. At a high level, WCAG 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 soon, 2.2.

There are three levels of WCAG conformance: A, AA, and AAA. Each level builds on the previous level like a pyramid. So, in order to meet Level AA, you must meet all of Level A, and in order to meet Level AAA, you must meet all of Level AA.

  • Level A = This level represents the base level of conformance. Level A criteria affect the broadest group of users with the most benefits and are essential. But, with the base level of support, some barriers will still exist that impact certain groups of users.
  • Level AA = This level is the most common target conformance level, often adopted in regulations or negotiated in legal settlements. The criteria at this level establish a level of accessibility that works for more users, including those who use assistive technology.
  • Level AAA = This is the highest conformance level achievable, meaning it covers the success criteria of all three levels. However, level AAA is not applicable or realistic in all situations. Some organizations may choose to adopt specific criteria at this level.

Because global regulations, including Section 508, adopt the WCAG standards, WCAG has become the international standard for web accessibility. Compliance with Section 508 requires conformance with WCAG 2.0 Level AA.

Conceptual computer with building blocks showing A, AA, and AAA

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Our risk assessment will help you understand your digital accessibility health score and your current level of Section 508 compliance.

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Frequently asked questions

What is Section 508 compliance?

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires federal agencies to create, buy, and use information and communication technology (ICT) that's accessible. ICT includes software and websites, electronic documents (such as PDFs), multimedia content, phones, call centers, and more. Specifically, Section 508 evaluates web accessibility according to the success criteria of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA. That means to be compliant with Section 508, federal agencies, and those doing business with federal agencies, must make sure their ICT conforms with WCAG 2.0 AA.

Does Section 508 apply to state agencies?

While Section 508 is a federal law, there may be implications for employees and agencies at the state level. Consult the Section 508 website to learn more about implications for state agencies and whether your state has enacted its own ICT accessibility laws.

Does Section 508 apply to the private sector?

Private sector organizations contracting with federal agencies are also required to comply with Section 508, ensuring any ICT they provide a federal agency is accessible.

What is Section 508 compliance testing?

Section 508 compliance testing is the process of checking information and communication technology (ICT) to ensure it meets accessibility requirements. ICT includes all pages of your website, software, applications, intranet sites and tools, and electronic documents. Section 508 defines web accessibility as conforming to the success criteria outlined in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA. Therefore, to comply with Section 508, ICT should conform with WCAG.

What is the difference between ADA and Section 508?

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act is a U.S. federal law that mandates that federal agencies create and use information and communications technology (ICT) that is accessible to people with disabilities, including those using assistive technology. Section 508 applies to federal agencies and departments, ensuring all people with disabilities can use federal agency resources. It also applies to any vendors selling ICT to a federal agency.

The ADA is an anti-discrimination law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in physical spaces. While the specific language of the ADA does not mention digital accessibility compliance, recent U.S. court rulings and legal precedent make it clear the ADA applies to the digital world as well as the physical one.

While ADA compliance and Section 508 accessibility standards have some overlap, they’re best used in tandem as guidelines for digital accessibility. Together, the ADA and Section 508 help ensure that no business or agency, whether in the public or private sector, excludes individuals with disabilities from access to online content. Learn more about the difference between the ADA and Section 508.

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