In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities. The law (29 U.S.C. § 794 (d)) applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology. Under Section 508, agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to access available to others.
NEW: 508 Standards Refresh
On January 18, 2017 the Access Board issued a final rule that updates accessibility requirements for information and communication technology (ICT) in the federal sector covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. The rule also refreshes guidelines for telecommunications equipment subject to Section 255 of the Communications Act. The rule jointly updates and reorganizes the Section 508 standards and Section 255 guidelines in response to market trends and innovations, such as the convergence of technologies. The refresh also harmonizes these requirements with other guidelines and standards both in the U.S. and abroad, including standards issued by the European Commission and with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a globally recognized voluntary consensus standard for web content and ICT. In fact, the rule references Level A and Level AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements in WCAG 2.0 and applies them not only to websites, but also to electronic documents and software. For more information, the Access Board has published an Overview of the Final Rule. Over the next several months, the US Access Board, in partnership with the General Services Administration, will provide 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.1
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.2
In the past, PK-12 practitioners have not always implemented Section 508 accommodations unless they work with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act IDEA and/or have students with an IEP. However, with four to six percent of all students classified as having specific learning disabilities in U.S. public schools, every teacher (online/blended/face-to-face) can expect to find students with learning disabilities in the classroom (Learning Disabilities Association of America, 2012). At a minimum, a teacher using the Internet for part of their education program is advised to be aware of the Section 508 guidelines and implement key practices related to accessibility. Later in this Module, you will find more specific details and recommendations for implementing key accessibility practices, like Closed Captioning.
Please view this brief video from the Federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on accessibility. Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the Web, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological disabilities.
People with Disabilities on the Web
The following section is taken from WebAim: Web Accessibility in Mind2
Though estimates vary, most studies find that about one fifth (20%) of the population has some kind of disability. Not all of these people have disabilities that make it difficult for them to access the internet, but it is still a significant portion of the population. Businesses would be unwise to purposely exclude 20, 10, or even 5 percent of their potential customers from their web sites. For schools, universities, and government entities it would not only be unwise, but in many cases, it would also violate the law.
Each of the major categories of disabilities requires certain types of adaptations in the design of web content. Most of the time, these adaptations benefit nearly everyone, not just people with disabilities. Almost everyone benefits from helpful illustrations, properly-organized content, and clear navigation. Similarly, while captions are a necessity for deaf users, they can be helpful to others, including anyone who views a video without audio.
Laws and standards
If you live in the United States, applicable laws include The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Sections 504 and Section 508). Many international laws also address accessibility.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide an international set of guidelines. They are developed by the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C), the governing body of the web. These guidelines are the basis of most web accessibility law in the world. Version 2.0 of these guidelines, published in December 2008, are based on four principles:
These first letters of these four principles spell the word POUR. This may help you remember them.
Perceivable: Available to the senses (vision and hearing primarily) either through the browser or through assistive technologies (e.g. screen readers, screen enlargers, etc.)
Operable: Users can interact with all controls and interactive elements using either the mouse, keyboard, or an assistive device.
Understandable: Content is clear and limits confusion and ambiguity.
Robust: A wide range of technologies (including old and new user agents and assistive technologies) can access the content.
1"Section 508 Law and Related Laws and ...." https://www.section508.gov/content/learn/laws-and-policies. Accessed 3 May. 2017.
2"Overview of the Final Rule - United States Access Board." 18 Jan. 2017, https://www.access-board.gov/guidelines-and-standards/communications-and-it/about-the-ict-refresh/overview-of-the-final-rule. Accessed 3 May. 2017.
3"WebAIM: Introduction to Web Accessibility." 15 Mar. 2016, http://webaim.org/intro/. Accessed 3 May. 2017.
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