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What The 'F' is Section 508: The government's response to A11y!

⚡️Ren⚡️
Kicking it in Dayton, Ohio as a software engineer with a passion for learning and teaching #a11y. Other passions include frontend web dev, drawing, running, and anime.
Updated on ・6 min read

Hello! And welcome to this super basic intro to Section 508 of The Rehabilitation Act.

So, What is Section 508?

First, as mentioned earlier Section 508 is a part of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973. I'm sure your thinking, 1973!!!! what that's crazy. But not really, because like most laws The Rehabilitation Act has been amended throughout the years. This section, in particular, becomes of interest in 1998. Changes were introduced that give us the updated versions of Sections 504 and 508.

The act itself prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by Federal agencies, in programs receiving Federal financial assistance, in Federal employment, and in the employment practices of Federal contractors.

The standards for determining employment discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act are the same as those used in title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Section 508 of the act, as now amended, provides for us a blueprint of just what is intended in Section 504.

Thus, Section 504 provides the context of the law, and Section 508 provides the direction.

And she said, "was it not clear from the context"

For Context: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

504 is a Civil Rights Law
The first legislative act to provide protection to those who have disabilities.

  • This applies to employers and organizations that receive federal financial assistance.

The message of this section is precise:

  • No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States... shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

And Now: Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

The reauthorized Rehabilitation act of 1998 included amendments to section 508 of the act.

This section bars the Federal Government from procuring E&IT (electronic and Information Technology) goods and services that are not fully accessible to those with a disability status.

  • This includes Web Design and creation

The Architectural and Transportation Barriers compliance board was enlisted to create binding, enforceable standards.

  • The Board enlisted the help of various accessibility advocacy groups to create the Electronic and Information Technology Access Advisory Committee or ‘EITAAC’
    • The committee helped create the first set of accessibility Standards and published them on December 21st, 2000.

Hi! I’m Section 508, I’m kind of a big deal...

Section 508 is extremely influential, Here are a few reasons:

  • It provides the first US Federal standard for the internet.
  • It provides compliance language that can be monitored from a distance.
  • State governments may be held accountable for compliance.
  • Business must comply with Section 508 when providing E&IT goods and services to the federal government.

Section 508 Enforcement & Evaluation of Conformance

Enforcement

  • The US Department of Justice of Civil Rights is charged with enforcing Section 508.
  • When Complaints arise members of the public, students and federal employees can:
    • File an Administrative Complaint
    • File a private lawsuit in federal court
    • File a formal complaint through the US Department of Justice of Civil Rights

Evaluation of Conformance

  • The Attorney General is required to evaluate how well the government is conforming.
    • They are required to give an updated report on both accessibility and the Federal E&IT to people with disabilities and the resolution of section 508 complaints filed against federal agencies
    • The first report was given in August 2001, the subsequent reports would be given every 2 years after.

508 Requirements for federal departments and agencies.

Troy walks into the room to find chaos because without rules there is chaos

  • Accessibility

    • Development, procurement, maintenance, or use of E&IT
    • Each federal Department & agency (including the Post office) must ensure that individuals with disabilities can use their technology.
      • Exceptions: An undue burden imposed on the department or agency...
    • Alternative means effort:
    • If in the case of undue burden, the department or agency will provide information or data in an alternative means of access
  • E&IT Standards

    • In general
    • No later than 18 months the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (referred to in this section as the `Access Board') after consulting with various related agencies and POCs
      • Discussion included consultation on relative research findings and conversion with organizations that represented those with disabilities
      • Defining the technical and functional criteria necessary to implement the requirements for this law
    • Review and Amendment
    • The access board will periodically review and amend if necessary.
  • Incorporation of Standards

    • No later the 6 months after the publishing of the standards the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council will revise the Federal Acquisition Regulation and subsequently each federal department/agency will revise Federal procurement policies and directive to incorporate the standards or if revised by the access board the revisions.
  • Acquisition Planning

    • If the compliance is determined to impose an undue burden, the documentation will explain why there is an undue burden
  • Exemption for National security systems

    • Section 508 won’t apply to national security systems.
  • Construction

    • Equipment
    • Equipment is only required to be present at the location where the public is granted access to E&IT.
    • The Federal department or agency isn’t required to purchase equipment except for the location where the public is granted access to E&IT.
    • Software & peripheral devices
    • Accessibility related software or devices are not required to be supplied to workstations of those without disabilities
      • Technical assistance
      • The Admin of General Services will provide assistance concerning the requirements
      • Agency Evaluations
      • 6 months after enactment evaluations of the state of accessibility in comparison to the usability of tech by those without disabilities will occur, a report will be submitted to the Attorney General
      • Reports
      • Interim
        • 18 month after enactment
      • Biennial
        • 3 years after enactment followed by a report every 2 years thereafter.
    • Corporation
    • Each head of relative boards (this includes the Access Board) will provide information to the Attorney General to conduct evaluations
    • Enforcement
    • General
      • Complaints
      • 2 years after enactment complaints can be filed when an agency fails in the compliance
      • Application
      • Applies to E&IT procured not less than 2 years after enactment.
    • Administrative Complaints
      • Complaints filed with the Federal agency or department alleged to be non-compliant.
    • Civil Actions
      • Remedies, procedures, and rights that are set and explained in sections 505(a)(2) and 505 (b) will be the Remedies, procedures, and rights that are available to any individual with a disability filing a complaint under paragraph 1 of this section.
    • Application to other federal laws
      • Section 508 will not be construed to limit any right, remedy, or procedure otherwise available under any provision of the federal law that provides greater and equal protection for the rights of individuals with disabilities

THE GUIDELINES

For Proper Legal speak, the Outline of the guidelines can be found: Text of the Standards and Guidelines: Section 508.

At the above site, the Access Board details the application and scoping requirements of section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (as amended).

  • At the above site the Access Board details the application and scoping requirements of section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (as amended).
    • The guidelines apply to:
    • The guidelines apply to:
    • Application
    • General Exceptions
    • Access to Functionality
    • Functional Performance Criteria
    • Electronic Content
    • Hardware
    • Software

Checklists are always helpful!!

  • WebAIM: 508 Checklist

    • As of January 2018 the guidelines were updated to reflect the WCAG 2.0 guidelines following AA level success criteria.
    • While the above site is out of date, it still gives excellent reference to the law’s checklist prior to 2018.
  • HHS: Section 508 checklists

    • Checklists are provided in CSV/Excel format for better reporting.
    • The accessibility checklists provide the evaluation criteria that must be met to ensure content is accessible to all users
    • Checklists are provided for software, web applications, web sites, and various documents (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, PDF)
    • Content was last reviewed in July of 2020

Other Laws Related to Accessibility

The Law say, "law ready for this"

  • USA:
    • ADA: Americans with Disabilities Act
    • CVAA:21st Century Communications and
    • Video Accessibility Act
    • ACAA: Air Carrier Act
    • State Web Accessibility Laws
  • International:
    • Canada:
    • Web Standards for the Government of Canada
    • AODA: Ontario: The Accessibility for
    • Ontarians with Disabilities Act
    • Quebec: Web accessibility standards
    • EU: EN 301 549: "Accessibility requirements suitable for public procurement of ICT products and services in Europe"
    • England: The Equality Act of 2010
    • Brazilian Law for Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities
    • Japan: The Act on the Elimination of
    • Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities

Ok that was heavy.

Thank you for sticking around until this point, I put this together to help me learn about the A11y compliance law for work and wanted to share with all of you! See you next time.

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