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If you are a developer creating websites for the current online landscape, it is important to keep in mind all the necessary accessibility standards you are required to follow. Included in these accessibility standards is Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Similarly to the ADA, Section 508 is a piece of American legislation created to address accessibility. Therefore, it is essential for all developers to make themselves familiar with the accessibility standards of Section 508.

What Is Section 508

Section 508 refers to an amendment made to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 in 1998. Congress created this amendment to address Federal agencies. Section 508 requires all Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities. This legislation has since become an essential component of web accessibility. Any time a Federal agency develops, procures, maintains, or uses electronic or information technology, Section 508 is applicable. Section 508 requires all Federal EIT to be equally accessible to users with disabilities or impairments to all other users. 

Section 508 also requires all Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to also be accessible. The following is a list of applicable technologies: 

  • Telephones, smartphones, and mobile devices
  • Televisions, DVD players, and videotaped productions
  • Internet and Intranet websites
  • PDF documents
  • Content on DVDs and CDs
  • Online training
  • Webinars and teleconferencing
  • Technical support call centers
  • Remote access websites and tools
  • Tablet, laptop, and desktop computers
  • Software and operating systems
  • User guides for software and tools
  • Copiers, printers, and fax machines
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The Differences Between Section 508 and ADA

Because of the similarities between Section 508 and the ADA, you may be wondering why it is necessary for both to exist. However, it is important to note there are a few fundamental differences between the two pieces of legislation. The first major difference between Section 508 and the ADA is how the law is applied. Section 508 applies only to Federal agencies which are not covered by the provisions in the ADA. Furthermore, the ADA applies to both state and local governments (Title II) and businesses generally open to the public (Title III). Because the covered entities differ for these laws, it is important to understand what legislation is applied to your website. 

Section 508 was published with standards designed to address the goals of the legislation. This includes scoping and technical requirements necessary to be sufficiently accessible and compliant. A Federal organization called the Access Board is in charge of developing and promulgating the standards of Section 508. The Access Board also provides services, such as technical assistance, and in general, helps ensure Federal agency content is accessible to users with disabilities. 

How To Know If Your Website is Section 508 Compliant?

You may be wondering how to determine if your website is Section 508 complaint. Fortunately, there are several methods available to determine compliance. The first of which is an automated test. This method is best used for high-volume testing, but has a few limitations. This includes issues such as false positives or tests being unable to access information behind website firewalls. For this reason, it is sometimes best to combine this testing method with other, more reliable methods.

The second method you can use to determine if your website is Section 508 complaint is manual testing. This is a great option because the process for manual testing is consistent and repeatable. There are documented methods for manual testing, making it an excellent option in regard to accuracy. The downside of this method is it can be time-consuming, especially if it is your first time testing for compliance. This makes this method challenging if you are working with a high volume of content. At Section508.gov, you can find detailed outlined instructions for how to test manually for accessibility. 

The final method you can consider using to determine if your website is Section 508 complaint is hybrid testing. This method refers to a combination of both manual and automated testing based on your need and requirements. This is a good option for high-volume websites. You can use automated testing and scanning tools to discover obvious errors. Then, you can manually test new content and existing content when needed. 

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Section 508 Compliance Guidelines

Section 508 compliance guidelines include technical requirements a website must have in order to achieve compliance. This includes a conformance checklist that must be referred to when reviewing compliance guidelines. Starting in January of 2018, Section 508 guidelines were changed to also incorporate WCAG 2.0 A and AA success criteria. For this reason, it is best practice to closely follow these guidelines in order to achieve compliance. The following is a list of general best practices from w3c.org: 

Perceivable

Operable

Understandable

Robust

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