Higher Education Innovation In Action

Credentials Explains: What is Section 508?

Kate Heider, Technical Writer Dec 08, 2016

Section 508 is an amendment to the U.S. Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It requires federal agencies and their contractors to make all electronic communications and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. It’s also the first federal law to detail best practices for website accessibility.[1]

Although public and private universities and their vendors are exempt from the Workforce Rehabilitation Act itself, many states have adopted 508 standards in laws that govern higher ed.[2] Even voluntary compliance is considered good practice among schools, as an estimated 11% of undergraduate students and 7-8% of grad students are disabled.[3],[4]

Accessibility Standards

Accessibility standards set forth under Section 508 cover a wide range of technologies, from computer hardware and software to telecommunications products and the Internet. The long list of standards includes:

  •  Teletypewriter (TTY) compatibility with telecommunications equipment
  •  Caption decoder circuitry built into television screens
  •  “Tactilely discernible” keys and controls for users who are blind
  •  Preservation of accessibility features and user settings (e.g., screen contrast and brightness)

For websites in particular, Section 508 outlines sixteen rules for things like input controls on forms, text rendering, screen readers, site navigation, and color coding. Eleven of these rules were taken from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) recommendation: Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).[1]

Proposed Update

In 2015, the United States Access Board, which is tasked with authoring federal accessibility guidelines, proposed an update to Section 508 to reflect sweeping changes in technology over the past 15 years and to incorporate criteria from latest version of WCAG.[5]

[1] Web Accessibility Standards. (2016). California Dept. of Education. Retrieved from 
[2] Higher Education, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 508. University System of Georgia. Retrieved from     
[3] Fast Facts – Students with Disabilities. (2016). National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from   
[4] Data Sources: Graduate Students with Disabilities. (2011). Council of Graduate Schools. Retrieved from         
[5] WCAG 2.0 Conformance. (2015) Retrieved from