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.
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. Even voluntary compliance is considered good practice among schools, as an estimated 11% of undergraduate students and 7-8% of grad students are disabled.,
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).
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.