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Section 508 Compliance

What is Section 508?

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was the first U.S. legislation to address government aid to the disabled, mainly in the form of grants, but also in coordinating government programs, conducting research, and training for those with impairments.

In 1998, President Bill Clinton signed into law amendments to the Rehabilitation Act, enacting Section 508. Section 508 requires access to electronic and information technology provided by the Federal government.

This means that federal employees with disabilities are able to do their work on accessible technological devices, and individuals with impairments can (a) apply for a federal job and (b) use an agency’s website to access information like everybody else.

On January 18, 2017, the U.S. Access Board published a final revision to Section 508, updating accessibility requirements for information and communication technology (ICT).

This rule thoroughly defined accessibility terms, including websites, cell phones, tablets, etc., stipulating the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as the conformance standard.

federal agencies* federal government**
Legislative definitions of a federal agency are varied, and even contradictory. The official United States Government Manual offers no definition. While the Administrative Procedure Act definition of "agency" applies to most executive branch agencies, Congress may define an agency however it chooses in enabling legislation, and subsequent litigation, often involving the Freedom of Information Act and the Government in the Sunshine Act. These further cloud attempts to enumerate a list of agencies. The executive branch of the federal government includes the Executive Office of the President and the United States federal executive departments (whose secretaries belong to the Cabinet). Employees of the majority of these agencies are considered civil servants. The majority of the independent agencies of the United States government are also classified as executive agencies (they are independent in that they are not subordinated under a Cabinet position). There are a small number of independent agencies that are not considered part of the executive branch, such as the Library of Congress and Congressional Budget Office, administered directly by Congress and thus are legislative branch agencies. Source: Wikipedia - List of federal agencies in the United States
The federal government of the United States (U.S. federal government) is the national government of the United States, a federal republic in North America, composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories and several island possessions. The federal government is composed of three distinct branches: legislative, executive, and judicial, whose powers are vested by the U.S. Constitution in the Congress, the president and the federal courts, respectively. The powers and duties of these branches are further defined by acts of Congress, including the creation of executive departments and courts inferior to the Supreme Court. Source: Wikipedia
Section 508

What does ICT include?

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is any equipment or system that is used to create, convert, duplicate or access information and data.

Examples of ICT include, but are not limited to:

  • Telephones, smartphones, and mobile devices
  • Televisions, DVD players, and videotaped productions
  • Internet and Intranet websites
  • PDF documents
  • Content on DVDs and CDs
  • On-line training
  • Webinars and teleconferencing
  • Technical support call centers
  • Remote access websites and tools
  • Tablet, laptop, and desktop computers
  • Software and operating systems
  • User guides for software and tools
  • Copiers, printers, and fax machines

Who must comply with Section 508?

Contrary to common knowledge, Section 508 is not restricted to federal agencies. Compliance is required by:
  1. Federal, state, and local government agencies
  2. Recipients of federal funds like universities, health care services, associations, museums, national parks, etc.
  3. Contractors and third-party workers who provide services to government agencies or bodies that receive federal funds

Section 508 liability history

High-profile civil rights lawsuits were filed against the Department of Homeland Security, Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of California, Berkeley, and the Small Business Association, among others.

For failing to adequately caption videos, for instance, the University of California, Berkeley, made a controversial decision to strike down thousands of educational videos from the public eye in 2017.

The consequence of these accessibility-related lawsuits brought into the light the difficulties organizations face when required complying with digital accessibility standards. High Web accessibility standards require technological expertise, financial investment that can amount to tens of thousands of dollars, and valuable time.

How is Section 508 enforced?

Section 508 lawsuits come into effect if the organization under contention does not resolve the complaint or fix the problem within 30 days of being notified.

Deborah Walsh, Director of Legal Operations at Dept. of Justice / Civil Rights Division’s Disability Rights Office says that “several recent settlements have ranged from $100,000 to $200,000 depending on a number of factors including how serious and pervasive the violations were.”

Section 508 lawsuits result when a person with a disability files suit against another entity because that entity either fails to make their websites accessible or to comply with Title parts of the ADA (American with Disabilities Act).

Section 508 is enforced in three ways:
  1. A federal agency may enforce compliance if it determines that an entity is violating Title III of the ADA (which refers to Section 508)
  2. Private entities may sue an entity for Section 508 violations
  3. A person with a disability can file suit for Section 508 violations
How is Section 508 enforced?

Section 508 compliance: what you need to know

Section 508 stipulates that its standards “ensure access for people with physical, sensory, or cognitive disabilities.”
For achieving those standards, the legislation labels WCAG 2.0 Level A and AA as the conformance standard for digital accessibility.

Note that WCAG is not officially coded into the law, as it is created by an independent, international body of Web developing experts. Hence Section 508 uses the “conformance” (conforming to a certain standard) terminology instead of “compliance.”

While this causes some legal ambiguity, the best solution for anyone looking to comply with Section 508 is to conform his or her digital assets to WCAG 2.0 Level AA Success Criteria. In fact, we at EqualWeb transform your websites to the latest WCAG 2.1 compliance standards; putting you ahead of the legislative procedure, providing liability protection, and creating an all-inclusive browsing experience for the disabled.

If the legal cobweb of accessibility for the disables still confuses you, Equalweb’s accessibility consultants are ready to explain everything you need to know about Section 508, as well as other compliance standards, and how to make your website friendlier to people with impairments.

Section 508 compliance testing: automated, manual, or hybrid?

An automated scan of your website can identify a stream of accessibility issues that would take a huge amount of time and effort to identify manually.

Nevertheless, there are situations where it is necessary to conduct manual accessibility testing in order to make your solutions workable for real human beings with disabilities. These include compatibility with screen readers and other assistance tools, including keyboard navigation, access to the programming language, and more.

Automated testing for Section 508

EqualWeb’s digital accessibility monitor scans and assesses massive quantities of content, faster than one would think possible. Autonomous scanning tools remove all resource requirements and they are immune from fatigue and other human-prone errors.

Manual testing for Section 508

Experts’ testing is a great way to complement automated technologies in areas where they are lacking (for example, Web pages that hide behind username passwords or firewalls). A person may be able to determine the context or he would make better decisions about what content is compliant. Web accessibility experts may also access protected sites and reliably verify the compatibility with assistive technology and tools. Manual testing can also involve real people with disabilities who can assess the accessibility of content. This process is called the user test, which we cover in detail in our blog.

Hybrid testing for Section 508

Most organizations will use a hybrid approach to achieve Section 508 compliance. This involves using both automated and manual testing methods in order to create an ideal balance between them. The hybrid testing method can run automated scans that flag issues to be reviewed by our accessibility experts, making sure they haven’t missed anything on the site (we are all human beings after all). This combination will make sure your website is fully compliant.
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