What is Section 508?
Section 508 refers to a key amendment of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which was made in 1998. The main purpose of the Section 508 amendment is to ensure that people with disabilities can easily access electronic and information technology.
This is because whereas the original Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was aimed at improving the lives of people with disabilities, it was primarily concerned with doing this in regard to access to employment and education opportunities as well as access to transportation, buildings, and governmental services.
However, the tremendous advancement in technology that led to the emergence of the World Wide Web necessitated an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act. Websites and web content became crucial resources that people with disabilities deserved access to. As such, the Act had to be amended to accommodate the needs of disabled people in the design and architecture of these web resources.
Therefore, Section 508 essentially advocates for equitable and universal web accessibility. However, the key difference between Section 508 and other accessibility laws such as AODA lies in whom they are intended for. Section 508 is specifically intended for all federal agencies and entities that receive federal funding.
Therefore, Section 508 is a Federal law that seeks to make it possible for people with disabilities to access, interact, and navigate governmental electronic and information technologies with ease as any other citizen would. This applies for both Federal employees and citizens who are seeking Federal services or trying to access Federal information on governmental sites.
Section 508 Compliance
Being a Federal law, Section 508 is legally enforceable. Therefore, it is imperative that all Federal agencies and departments ensure employees and members of the general public who live with disabilities can easily understand, navigate, and interact with their websites as well as utilize all their communication and information resources.
For a federal agency or department to be 508 compliant, its website should fulfill certain conditions which include;
- Incorporate screen reading capabilities to facilitate the auditory transmission of information encoded in website text content.
- Facilitate the access of audio and video content by those with impaired hearing using closed captioning and subtitles.
- Facilitate the contextual comprehension of images by the visually impaired using alternative image text which can be transmitted through audio by screen readers.
- Facilitate comprehension of video content using alternative text for videos.
- Provide options for requesting more time in cases where users are filling private information and the responses are timed for security purposes.
- Ensure that users have the option to zoom content for better readability especially if they are visually impaired or if they are suffering from astigmatism.
508 Compliance is Beneficial for Organizations
While they may be distinct sets of guidelines, following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines as stipulated by the World Wide Web Consortium to a great extent makes you 508 compliant. This is because they are both designed to ensure that people with disabilities can enjoy equitable access to websites and web content.
Therefore, even private businesses can achieve 508-compliance if they optimize their websites to fulfill WCAG stipulations. This will not only enable your business to expand its target audience. Rather, you will also be able to avoid lawsuits, penalties and fines that accompany non-compliance with accessibility requirements.