December 12, 2017 - You may wonder if non-federal websites are required to comply with the Revised 508 Standards. Since Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 only applies to federal agencies, the short answer is no. However, other laws do apply, and the bottom line is that your website is likely required to be accessible.
Other Laws that Apply to Website Accessibility
Even when Section 508 doesn’t apply, many non-federal websites are still required to be accessible under other laws, such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, or state or local laws.
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.
What about the Americans with Disabilities Act?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also comes into play here, and applies more broadly. The Department of Justice (DOJ) says that ADA requires any person, business, or organization covered under the Act to communicate effectively about their programs, services, and activities. This includes information provided through your website.
In its Supplemental Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on State and Local Government Web Accessibility, the DOJ explained that it was considering proposing WCAG 2.0 Level AA as the accessibility standard for websites and web content. The DOJ noted that WCAG 2.0 has become the internationally recognized benchmark for web accessibility. The Revised 508 Standards are based on WCAG 2.0.
However, a final rule specifying technical standards under the ADA has not been adopted. Until the DOJ adopts specific technical requirements for web accessibility in a final rule, if you’re subject to the ADA, you have more flexibility in determining how to make your website compliant with the ADA’s general requirements of nondiscrimination and effective communication. Remember, you still must comply with applicable regulations (Title II for state and local governments, or Title III for public accommodations and commercial facilities).
If you’re working to make your website accessible, you may want to consult the Accessibility Resources for Developers and Authors, developed to help Federal agencies implement the Revised 508 Standards. Also review this Quick Reference Guide from the W3C on how to meet WCAG 2.0. If you have questions about ADA requirements, please contact DOJ at https://www.ada.gov/contact_drs.htm. See guidance on the Revised Section 508 Standards for additional help.
The Bottom Line
Section 508 may not apply to your website, but other laws likely do, so your website should be accessible. Most accessibility standards are moving toward WCAG 2.0 standards to best meet the needs of people with disabilities. Regardless of whether or not federal regulations apply to your website, designing for all users is a best practice, and will help your organization more effectively meet the needs of all your customers.