Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (29 U.S.C. § 794 (d))
In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities. The law (29 U.S.C. § 794 (d)) applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology. Under Section 508, agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to access available to others. The United States Access Board discusses the Section 508 law and its responsibility for developing accessibility standards for EIT to incorporate into regulations that govern Federal procurement practices.
NEW: 508 Standards Refresh
On January 18, 2017 the Access Board issued a final rule that updates accessibility requirements for information and communication technology (ICT) in the federal sector covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. The rule also refreshes guidelines for telecommunications equipment subject to Section 255 of the Communications Act. The rule jointly updates and reorganizes the Section 508 standards and Section 255 guidelines in response to market trends and innovations, such as the convergence of technologies. The refresh also harmonizes these requirements with other guidelines and standards both in the U.S. and abroad, including standards issued by the European Commission and with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a globally recognized voluntary consensus standard for web content and ICT. In fact, the rule references Level A and Level AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements in WCAG 2.0 and applies them not only to websites, but also to electronic documents and software. For more information, the Access Board has published an Overview of the Final Rule. Over the next several months, the US Access Board, in partnership with the General Services Administration, will provide guidance on the standards and on how to implement them within the federal government. This guidance will be published on the Section508.gov website when available.
Other Related Laws
It is important to understand Section 508 in the context of other laws related to federal disability policy. In addition to Section 508, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 has several other sections:
- Sections 501 and 505: prohibits federal employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities.
- Section 503: prohibits employment discrimination based on disability by federal contractors or subcontractors.
- Section 504: prohibits federal agencies, programs, or activities from discriminating and requires reasonable accommodation for qualified individuals with disabilities.
Additional related laws include:
- Section 255 of the Communications Act: requires telecommunications products and services to be accessible to people with disabilities.
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): the first major legislative effort to secure an equal playing field for individuals with disabilities.
- Assistive Technology Act of 1998: establishes a grant program to provide Federal funds to support State programs that address the assistive technology needs of individuals with disabilities.
- Help America Vote Act of 2002: mandates improvements to voting systems and voter access for the nation's voting process.
- 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010: requires advanced communications services and products to be accessible by people with disabilities.
Section 508 Related Policies
- OMB Memos: memoranda to Chief Acquisition Officers and Chief Information Officers on agency duties and the importance of Section 508.
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): additional guidance on laws related to the provision of reasonable accommodations.
- State Policy: many states have also passed legislation requiring electronic and information technology accessibility.
- International Harmonization: other government-supported efforts around the world working on a "standards approach" to ensuring ICT accessibility.