What Does Section 508 Compliance Mean?
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Section 508 and Accessibility
While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was passed into law in 1990, is acknowledged for bringing accessibility to the mainstream’s attention, it primarily applies to the commercial and physical built environments. It took roughly 8 years for the ADA’s application to the digital world to be achieved.
The US Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to require all federal agencies to procure, create, use, and maintain Information and Communication Technology (ICT) that is accessible to people with disabilities, regardless of whether or not they work for the federal government. This was significant for People with Disabilities (PWDs), since the Rehabilitation Act includes circumstances that relate to federal government funds.
Section 508, and its subsequent updates, compels the federal government to guarantee that individuals with disabilities have equivalent access to and use of ICT as those without disabilities. It applies to any electronic information distribution, including web pages, desktop applications, documents, presentations, and spreadsheets. That implies that everything purchased with federal government funding, from desktop software used by a few employees to a web page accessible to anybody in the world, must be 508 compliant.
By targeting the purchasing power of the federal government, Section 508 closed any avenues for the federal government to procure products and services that are less accessible to PWDs than those that are more accessible. It has sparked an interest in addressing the longstanding accessibility barriers in the ICT sector.
Section 508 provides the accessibility standards for the following:
Section 508 VPAT itemizes the standards required for accessibility of various products and services. For web-based products and services, the standards were updated through the revision of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1. These may be found in the refreshed Section 508 VPAT for websites and web-applications, as derived from Sub-Part B, 1194.22 of Section 508.
Section 508 compliance certification for websites and web-applications requires conformity with sixteen provisions that signify that a website or application is accessible to people with disabilities. The provisions’ primary purpose is to enable accessibility for visually impaired individuals using such assistive technology as screen readers by providing contextual text labels and descriptions for visuals, navigation, and other web page components.
A Section 508 compliance certification for a website or web-application demonstrates that a website or web-application complies with the sixteen provisions for websites and web-applications as outlined in Section 508 VPAT. The sixteen provisions are as follows:
These provisions can be summed up as having websites and web-applications that are perceivable, i.e., with web content that is made available to the senses – sight, hearing, and/or touch; with interface forms, controls, and navigations that are operable; with information and the operation of user interfaces that is understandable; and with content that is robust enough that it can be interpreted by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
In addition to adhering to these sixteen standards, Section 508 compliance entails that the assistive technology offered to PDWs improves PWDs’ access to previously inaccessible products and services. It also entails providing knowledge and operability for assistive technologies to stand on in order to achieve significantly greater accessibility.