Section 508 is a part of the Federal Rehabilitation Act (of 1973) and was introduced in 1998.
Although there is a lot of misleading information out there regarding exactly what Section 508 is, the actual definition is quite simple. Section 508 requires Federal agencies (and any associated business partners i.e. contractors, sub-contractors, vendors, etc.) to make their websites and related IT infrastructure 100% accessible to people with disabilities.
Section 508 isn’t just limited to websites and e-learning though, it also applies to Federal workplace standards as well. Under the guidelines established in the Rehabilitation Act (and specifically Section 508), federal agencies are required to provide disabled employees with accessible electronic equipment (not just web access as is commonly believed). The catch-all term used to describe exactly what types of information/electronics need to be accessible is known as “Information and Communications Technology” (ICT).
Section 508 Compliance: ICT Examples
- Mobile phones
- Laptop computers
- Desktop computers
- Internet content
- eLearning material
- Computer software and applications
- Electronics used for work
Section 508 vs. Section 501
These two sections of the Rehabilitation Act are often confused with each other. The main difference between the two sections is that Section 508 standards refer to ICT access, whereas Section 501 compliance refers to being fully accessible for a disabled employee (not just in terms of ICT). You can learn more about Section 501 here.
Section 508 & Related Laws
The goal of Section 508 is to eliminate discrimination towards disabled employees. In terms of communication discrimination (both internet-based or non-internet related), there are several related laws:
- ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)
- Communications Act (Section 255)
- Comm. & Video Accessibility Act of 2010
Do Section 508 Standards Only Apply to Federal Agencies?
This is one of the most common questions regarding Section 508. The answer is no. Section 508 does not only apply to federal agencies. Any businesses that are partners with a federal agency (in any capacity) are required to be compliant with Section 508. Contractors, sub-contractors, vendors, etc. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in either, if you work with a federal agency, you need to be section 508 compliant.
How to Become Section 508 Compliant?
Becoming Section 508 compliant isn’t exactly an easy task. There’s an entire industry around transforming corporate communications policies to be compliant with Section 508. However, if you want to get started off on the right foot, there are numerous online assessments and checklists that you can use to gauge where your company is currently at (in regards to compliance).
If your goal is to become Section 508 compliant, you should really consider expanding that goal to an overall transformation of your entire business’s communications policies. Being Section 508 compliant is one thing, but being 100% accessible to everyone is another thing altogether. It’s generally recommended to reach out to a Section 508 consultancy firm if you need to make significant changes to your communication policies.
Additional Section 508 Policies
It’s possible, although not entirely likely, that your business might be required to have additionally stringent Section 508 compliance. These additional compliances are industry-based and usually state-specific, meaning that they only apply to your business if your located in a specific state that has these specific compliances.
An example of this would be if you manage the ICT for a university in Illinois (a state which has additional Section 508 compliance policies for public institutions), you would be required to comply with these additional policies.
2018 Update to Section 508 Compliance
The federal government updated Section 508 in early 2018, in order to address the ever-changing technological landscape of the modern world. Significant changes made to Section 508 in 2018 include the following:
- Updated web content accessibility policies
- Focusing on improving ICT experiences for people with disabilities
- Extending the definition of disability (in regards to ICT) to also include other types of disabled people (not just physically disabled people).
The 2018 update also made changes to the different types of content that disabled people must have access to. If you’re interested, learn more about the 2018 update to Section 508.
What Happens If a Company Isn’t Compliant?
If a business or agency doesn’t comply with Section 508 standards, they have a massive liability. Disabled people can file legal actions against your company (i.e. lawsuits), and this isn’t as out of the ordinary as one would think either. If the government catches wind of your non-compliance, you could lose your contract with them as well. This is why complying with Section 508 is essential if you work with the federal government (in any capacity).