IT Accessibility Laws and Policies
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
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 comparable to the access available to others.
The U.S. Access Board is responsible for developing Information and Communication Technology (ICT) accessibility standards to incorporate into regulations that govern Federal procurement practices. On January 18, 2017, the Access Board issued a final rule that updated accessibility requirements covered by Section 508, and refreshed guidelines for telecommunications equipment subject to Section 255 of the Communications Act. The final rule went into effect on January 18, 2018.
The rule updated and reorganized the Section 508 Standards and Section 255 Guidelines in response to market trends and innovations in technology. The refresh also harmonized these requirements with other guidelines and standards both in the U.S. and abroad, including standards issued by the European Commission, and with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0), a globally recognized voluntary consensus standard for web content and ICT.
Revised 508 Standards
- Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Final Standards and Guidelines – Read the Revised 508 Standards (final rule)
- Text of the Standards and Guidelines
- About the Update of the Section 508 Standards and Section 255 Guidelines for Information and Communication Technology – High-level overview
- Revised 508 Standards Transition Guide – An overview of changes your agency needs to make to transition to the Revised 508 Standards.
It is important to understand Section 508 in the context of other laws related to federal disability policy. In addition to Section 508, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 has several other sections:
- Section 501 and 505 – Prohibits federal employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities
- Section 503 – Prohibits employment discrimination based on disability by federal contractors or subcontractors
- Section 504 – Prohibits federal agencies, programs, or activities from discriminating and requires reasonable accommodation for qualified individuals with disabilities
Additional related laws include:
- Section 255 of the Communications Act – Requires telecommunications products and services to be accessible to people with disabilities
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – The first major legislative effort to secure an equal playing field for individuals with disabilities
- Assistive Technology Act of 1998 – Establishes a grant program to provide Federal funds to support State programs that address the assistive technology needs of individuals with disabilities
- Help America Vote Act of 2002 – Mandates improvements to voting systems and voter access for the nation’s voting process
- 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 – Requires advanced communications services and products to be accessible by people with disabilities
- Strategic Plan for Improving Management of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (PDF, January 2013)
- M-17-06 – Policies for Federal Agency Public Websites and Digital Services
- M-16-20 Category Management Policy 16-3: Improving the Acquisition and Management of Common Information Technology: Mobile Devices and Services
- M-13-13 – Open Data Policy – Managing Information as an Asset
- OMB Improving the Accessibility of Government Information – July 2010
- Office of Federal Procurement Policy 508 Compliance
- 2011 Notes from Daniel I. Gordon, Federal Procurement Policy Administrator
- 2010 OMB Memorandum for the Chief Acquisition Officers and Chief Information Officers
- 2007 OMB Memorandum for the Chief Acquisition Officers and Chief Information Officers
- 2005 OMB Memorandum for the Chief Acquisition Officers and Chief Information Officers
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
- EEOC Policy Guidance On Executive Order 13164: Establishing Procedures To Facilitate The Provision Of Reasonable Accommodation – October 2000
- EEOC Procedures for Providing Reasonable Accommodation for Individuals With Disabilities – February 2001
State and International
- State Policy – States’ legislation requiring electronic and information technology accessibility
- International Harmonization – Other government-supported efforts around the world working on a “standards approach” to encuring ICT accessibility.
- Web Accessibility Laws & Policies
The transition from the Original 508 Standards to the Revised 508 Standards was an opportunity for agencies to revisit and update their Section 508, 501, and 504 policies. Policies on how your agency implements each Section of the Rehabilitation Act should be closely aligned, to clarify responsibilities and determine how to respond to claims of discrimination on the basis of disability.
Your accessibility policies should explain that your agency is obligated to:
- Make Information and Communication Technology (ICT) accessible to people with disabilities; and
- Accommodate the needs of employees and program participants, while meeting the Revised 508 requirements.
- Example: Department of Homeland Security Section 508 Directive
- Example: Veterans Administration Accessibility Policy
- Example: SSA Internet Accessibility Policy
- Example: Department of Justice Model Section 508 Complaint Process