Information Technology Access: Questions and Answers for State and Local Entities
Section 508 is a part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which requires that electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by the Federal government be accessible to people with disabilities.
In 1998, the Workforce Investment Act was signed into law, and includes the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998. Section 508 was originally added to the Rehabilitation Act in 1986; the 1998 amendments significantly expanded and strengthened the technology access requirements in Section 508.
The 1998 version created binding, enforceable standards that have been incorporated into Federal procurement regulations. Federal agencies use these standards in their electronic and information technology acquisitions. Consistent government-wide standards make it easier for Federal agencies to meet their obligation to make their technology systems accessible and promote competition in the technology industry by clarifying the Federal market's requirement for accessibility in products. Section 508 also established a complaint procedure and reporting requirements, which further strengthened the law.
Missouri has incorporated Section 508 in 161.935 RSMo for all state departments and agencies.
Section 508 applies to all Federal Departments and Agencies and the US Postal Service. Federal agencies must comply with the 508 standards by January 18, 2018. Section 508 also applies to all Missouri state departments and agencies.
Who is the Federal Resource for clarifications and guidance?
The US Access Board, in partnership with the General Services Administration, provides guidance on the standards and on how to implement them within the federal government. This guidance will be published on the Section508.gov website when available.
What occurred in 2017 regarding Section 508?
Updated Regulations on Section 508 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act gives federal agencies and contractors a refreshed set of standards to use to determine what makes a website or software accessible to individuals with disabilities. The current Section 508 has been the same since 1998. Technology has changed a lot since 1998. In January 2017, the United States Access Board published its final update to Section 508 and the updated version took effect March 2017.
The Access Board’s final rule revises and refreshes its standards for information and communication technology in the federal sector covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The Board’s Section 508 Standards, which were first issued in 2000, apply to all information and communication technology (ICT) developed, procured, maintained, or used by federal agencies. Examples include computers, telecommunications equipment, multifunction office machines such as copiers that also function as printers, software, websites, information kiosks and transaction machines, and electronic documents.
The Board’s final rule also updates guidelines for telecommunications equipment covered by Section 255 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended. The Section 255 Guidelines, which the Board initially published in 1998, cover telecommunications equipment and customer premises equipment, including telephones, cell phones, routers, set-top boxes, and computers with modems, interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol products, as well as software integral to the operation of telecommunications function of such equipment.
The new Section 508 refresh harmonizes current accessibility standards developed by standards organizations worldwide. This includes standards issued by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. It also covers “non-web” material. Non-web material includes things like Microsoft Word, Adobe PDF and other file formats that are commonly used online.
What are the Goals of the Section 508 Refresh?
The Board updated the 508 Standards and 255 Guidelines jointly to ensure consistency in accessibility across the spectrum of information and communication technologies (ICT) covered.
Other goals of this refresh include:
- enhancing accessibility to ICT for people with disabilities;
- making the requirements easier to understand and follow;
- updating the requirements so that they stay abreast of the ever-changing nature of the technologies covered; and
- harmonizing the requirements with other standards in the U.S. and abroad.
How was the Final Rule developed?
The Access Board initiated this update by organizing an advisory committee to review the original 508 Standards and 255 Guidelines and to recommend changes. The 41 members of the Telecommunications and Electronic and Information Technology Advisory Committee (TEITAC) comprised a broad cross-section of stakeholders representing industry, disability groups, and government agencies. Its membership also included representatives from the European Commission, Canada, Australia, and Japan. The committee addressed a range of issues, including new or convergent technologies, market forces, and international harmonization and submitted its report to the Board in April 2008. Recognizing the importance of standardization across markets worldwide, the committee coordinated its work with standard-setting bodies in the U.S. and abroad, including the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the European Commission.
The Board released drafts of the rule based on the committee’s report in 2010 and 2011 and followed up with an official notice of proposed rulemaking in February 2015. With each release, the Board held public hearings and solicited public comment. Over the course of this rulemaking, the Board held seven public hearings and received over 630 comments.
What are the Major Changes in Section 508?
The final rule revises both the structure and substance of the ICT requirements to further accessibility, facilitate compliance, and make the document easier to use. Major changes include:
Restructuring provisions by functionality instead of product type due to the increasingly multi-functional capabilities of ICT;
incorporating the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 by reference and applying Level A and Level AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements to websites, as well as to non-web electronic documents and software;
specifying the types of non-public facing electronic content that must comply;
requiring that operating systems provide certain accessibility features;
clarifying that software and operating systems must interoperate with assistive technology (such as screen magnification software and refreshable Braille displays);
addressing access for people with cognitive, language, and learning disabilities; and
harmonizing the requirements with international standards.
Where do I find aspects of Section 508 and Section 255 in the Rule?
The final rule provides parallel chapters that separately address general application and scoping of the Section 508 Standards and the Section 255 Guidelines (Chapters 1 and 2). These sections apply to both 508-covered and 255-covered ICT functional performance criteria (Chapter 3), technical requirements for hardware and software (Chapters 4 and 5), criteria for support documentation and services (Chapter 6), and referenced standards (Chapter 7).
Does the Refresh Cover Electronic Content?
Like the original 508 Standards, the updated 508 Standards apply to a federal agency’s full range of public-facing content, including websites, documents and media, blog posts, and social media sites. The final rule also specifically lists the types of non-public-facing content that must comply. This includes electronic content used by a federal agency for official business to communicate: emergency notifications, initial or final decisions adjudicating administrative claims or proceedings, internal or external program or policy announcements, notices of benefits, program eligibility, employment opportunities or personnel actions, formal acknowledgements or receipts, questionnaires or surveys, templates or forms, educational or training materials, and web-based intranets.
Are there any exceptions to the Rule?
Existing ICT, including content, that meets the original 508 Standards does not have to be upgraded to meet the refreshed standards unless it is altered. This “safe harbor” clause (E202.2) applies to any component or portion of ICT that complies with the existing 508 Standards and is not altered. Any component or portion of existing, compliant ICT that is altered after the compliance date (January 18, 2018) must conform to the updated 508 Standards.
How is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) involved?
The final rule incorporates by reference a number of voluntary consensus standards, including WCAG 2.0. Issued by the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative, WCAG 2.0 is a globally recognized, technology-neutral standard for web content. The final rule applies WCAG 2.0 not only to web-based content, but to all electronic content.
The benefits of incorporating the WCAG 2.0 into the Section 508 Standards and the 255 Guidelines and applying it in this manner are significant. WCAG 2.0 addresses new technologies and recognizes that the characteristics of products, such as native browser behavior and plug-ins and applets, have converged over time. A substantial amount of WCAG 2.0 support material is available, and WCAG 2.0-compliant accessibility features are already built into many products. Further, use of WCAG 2.0 promotes international harmonization as it is referenced by, or the basis for, standards issued by the European Commission, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Germany, and France.
Visit the Access Board’s site to learn more about Comparison Table of WCAG 2.0 to Existing 508 Standards: Comparison Chart
Since the world wide web is accessed by everyone, what global standards were considered?
Harmonization with international standards and guidelines promotes greater accessibility worldwide, enhances uniformity, and heightens market incentives for integrating accessibility into information and communication technology. Throughout the rulemaking process, the Board coordinated its refresh with the European Commission’s development of counterpart ICT accessibility standards. In 2014, the European Commission adopted the “Accessibility requirements for public procurement of ICT products and services in Europe” (EN 301 549) which is available for use by European government officials as technical specifications or award criteria in public procurements of ICT products and services. The Board has worked to ensure broad harmonization between its ICT requirements and the European Commission’s standards (as revised in 2015).
What are the Functional Performance Criteria?
The functional performance criteria are outcome-based provisions that address accessibility relevant to disabilities impacting vision, hearing, color perception, speech, cognition, manual dexterity, reach, and strength. These criteria apply only where a technical requirement is silent regarding one or more functions or when evaluation of an alternative design or technology is needed under equivalent facilitation. If a technical provision covers a particular function of hardware or software, meeting the relevant functional performance criterion is not required.
The functional performance criteria require that technologies with:
visual modes also be usable with limited vision and without vision or color perception;
audible modes also be usable with limited hearing and without hearing;
speech-based modes for input, control, or operation also be usable without speech;
manual operation modes also be usable with limited reach and strength and without fine motor control or simultaneous manual operations; and
have features making its use simpler and easier for people with limited cognitive, language, and learning abilities.
What are available tools and resources for making a website accessible?
- For federal agencies, there is a 508 Coordinator in many federal branches of government: Section 508 Federal Coordinator Listing
There are a variety of online educational resources to assist with this topic. Visit our ICT Training and ICT Websites and Applications pages for more information on: Educational resources on ICT and testing for accessibility.
Are there other laws that govern information technology accessibility?
A number of states and local agencies have adopted laws, policies, or executive orders that address one or more facets of information technology accessibility. A few states have statutes that require an access clause be included in all contracts for purchase of information technology products (hardware and software). Another handful of states have rules, policies or executive orders that require adherence to access standards for web development. Still other states have less formal guidance encouraging information technology accessibility without identification of specific access standards. Lastly, a few states have laws or policies that require electronic textbook procurement for specific educational entities.
Are there Missouri law and policy on IT access?
Missouri state law (RSMo. 161.935) requires state agencies to develop and procure accessible information technology unless an undue burden would be imposed. The statute defines state agencies as "each department, office, board, bureau, commission or other unit of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of state government, including public four-year and two-year colleges and universities." Missouri's law defines information technology the same as Section 508. The statute also charged the Missouri assistive technology council (MoAT) and the information technology services division (ITSD) with responsibility for adopting standards to be used by state agencies in the procurement or development of accessible information technology.
MoAT and OIT along with the Division of Purchasing developed IT access standards.
A work team comprised of MoAT, ITSD and Missouri Department of Conservation updated the Missouri state ICT access standards. The Missouri Assistive Technology Advisory Council approved these standards on December 8, 2017. The standards can be found at:
For some state contracts, applicable Section 508 standards (§1194.21) have been used as requirements for accessible product development, along with contract language providing for a no cost "fix" to the state for non-compliance with those standards.
For more information on Section 508, contact the United States Access Board
United States Access Board
1331 F Street NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20004-1111
Voice: (202) 272-0080 or (800) 872-2253
TTY: (202) 272-0082 or (800) 993-2822
Fax: (202) 272-0081