What is Section 508?
Often times we hear the phrase "Section 508" in connection with accessibility or disabilities. In this article I would like to briefly explain what it is, who should pay attention to it, provide some information about compliance, and the Future of Section 508. At the end of the article you will find links if you are looking for further information.
What Is Section 508 of The Rehabilitation Act?
It is called Section 508, as a short form of the long original legislation title, "section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (29 U.S.C. 794d)". It is often mistakenly believed that Section 508 is part of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Section 508, in simple terms, requires that when Federal Agencies
develop, procure, maintain or use electronic and information technology, information and data should be accessible to people with disabilities. It is a little more complex, but a thorough explanation would extend beyond the scope of this article.
What Does Section 508 Mean In Reality?
If you are a federal employee, or use federal services, it means that all information should be available to you, even if you live with any kind of a disability.
If you are selling to the Federal Government, you should make all information accessible to people with disabilities.
In addition, more and more states adopt their own accessibility legislation, and most of this legislation use Section 508 as their set of standards.
What Does Section 508 Require
The first part of Section 508 standards is a bit complex, but relatively straight forward. It explains who needs to comply with Section 508, and details under what circumstances compliance can be waived.
The technical standards are less coherent. While Section 508 addresses most areas of information technology, the standards themselves are not clear and do not provide enough instruction. Consequently, different government agencies interpret it differently, some are very liberal, and some, especially larger agencies are quite rigorous. There is a way to make sure that a product will pass an agency's requirements, but it often assumes to add more accessibility features to it than what Section 508 requires.
Promoting your products
When your product is Section 508 compliant, it is a good idea to create a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT), in which you detail how your product complies with Section 508. Government procurement agents like to use these VPATs when making their purchasing decisions.
The Future of Section 508
The current Section 508 standards are quite outdated and would require more accurate instructions for developers. Currently the standards are being redrafted, and a more comprehensive set of instructions is expected to be out sometime around 2013.