What is Section 508?

Section 508 is a 1998 amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that requires by law that all federal agencies make their electronic content accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities. In order to meet standards, technologies must be determined to be as user-friendly and compatible for disabled users as they are for non-disabled users.

508 compliance not only encompasses the entirety of the federal government but also applies to any company, private or public, that does business with a federal agency or receives funding from them.

Since it was enacted, the amendment has undergone updates of its own to ensure everyone is properly accommodated for. As recently as January 2017 a round of revisions were made to keep up with the continual growth of digitalization. The revisions went into effect in January 2018.

Any company or agency that falls under 508 compliance must make all digital documents, website content, software, emails and apps accessible to people with disabilities. PDFs are not normally accessible by screen readers so they require availability in other forms.

Due to the varying nature of disabilities, flexibility is also heavily emphasized. Electronic data must be available in multiple forms, specific to each disability. Additionally, when government employees have valid requests for accommodation, agencies are encouraged to handle these cases personally rather than applying a universal standard.  

Major Section 508 qualifications

  • Web-based content is made accessible with text descriptions so users with screen readers and braille displays are able to access it.
  • Any video or multimedia require captions or multimedia require captions and audio description.
  • Special features must be added to technologies that cannot connect to a user’s assistive technology so they are able to connect and use it.
  • All online forms must be capable of being filled out using only the keyboard or assistive technology.
  • Websites must have color and lighting contrast between content and the background so that the text is more readable by those with visual impairments.
  • Web pages cannot flicker at a frequency greater than 2 Hz or less than 55 Hz in order to prevent seizures.

Related Laws

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was a revision on the United States vocational rehabilitation service focusing specifically on catering to those with disabilities. While Section 508 is a major amendment to the act, there are a number of other sections and acts that are related and also pertain to federal agencies.

  • Section 501 and 505 demand that federal employers do not discriminate against qualified individuals. Specifically, those who have disabilities.
  • Section 503 applies the same requirement to federal contractors.
  • Section 504 extended civil rights measures to disabled individuals and focused specifically on the education sector.
  • Americans with Disability (ADA) also prohibits workplace discrimination and requires equal opportunity and salaries for those with disabilities.
  • Section 255 of the Communications Act requires telecommunicative services are accessible to disabled individuals.