What is Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973?

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a law in the United States that requires federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. The law was first passed in 1986, but was significantly updated in 1998 to account for the rapid growth of technology.

The law applies to all federal agencies and their contractors, and requires them to ensure that people with disabilities have access to the same information and functionality that is available to people without disabilities. This means that all electronic and information technology used by the federal government must be designed and developed with accessibility in mind, and must comply with specific technical standards for accessibility.

The technical standards established by Section 508 cover a wide range of electronic and information technology, including software applications, websites, multimedia, and telecommunications. The standards address issues such as keyboard accessibility, color contrast, and the use of alternative text for images, among other things.

The goal of Section 508 is to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to government services and information, and to prevent discrimination on the basis of disability. Compliance with Section 508 is monitored by the U.S. Access Board, which is responsible for establishing and maintaining the technical standards for accessibility.

What happens if my website is inaccessible under Section 508?

There are several implications of having an inaccessible website under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Here are some of the main ones:

  1. Legal liability: If a federal agency or contractor fails to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities, they can be subject to legal action under Section 508. This could result in fines, lawsuits, and other legal penalties.
  2. Inaccessible information: An inaccessible website can prevent people with disabilities from accessing important information and services. This can be particularly problematic for people who rely on government services and information to access healthcare, education, employment, and other critical areas of life.
  3. Poor user experience: An inaccessible website can also lead to a poor user experience for everyone, not just people with disabilities. If a website is difficult to navigate or use, users may become frustrated and abandon the site, resulting in lost business or other negative outcomes.
  4. Negative public image: Failing to make a website accessible to people with disabilities can also damage a federal agency or contractor’s reputation and public image. It can make them appear insensitive to the needs of people with disabilities and can harm their standing in the community.

Who enforces Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973?

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is enforced by the U.S. Access Board, an independent federal agency that is responsible for developing and maintaining accessibility standards for information and communication technology (ICT) used by the federal government. The Access Board is also responsible for providing technical assistance and guidance on the implementation of Section 508, as well as enforcing compliance with the standards by federal agencies. In addition, federal agencies themselves are responsible for ensuring their ICT, including websites, software, and other electronic content, comply with Section 508 standards.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is a part of the U.S. Department of Education, and it is responsible for enforcing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in federally-funded programs and activities, including educational institutions.

The OCR has enforcement authority over Section 504 but may also be involved in investigating complaints related to accessibility in educational institutions that receive federal funding, including issues related to Section 508 compliance.

So it’s important to note that multiple agencies may have overlapping responsibilities in enforcing different sections of the Rehabilitation Act, depending on the context and nature of the complaint or issue.

How can Silktide help you become compliant?

Silktide is a software platform that provides a range of accessibility testing and reporting tools to help website owners and developers ensure that their websites are compliant with Section 508 and other accessibility guidelines.

One of the main ways that Silktide can help you become compliant with Section 508 is by providing automated accessibility testing for your website. Silktide uses advanced techniques to analyze your website and identify any potential accessibility issues, such as missing alt text on images or non-compliant color contrast ratios.

Silktide also provides detailed reports and recommendations for how to fix any accessibility issues that are identified. These reports include step-by-step instructions for making the necessary changes to your website, as well as information on how each issue affects compliance with Section 508 and other accessibility guidelines (notably, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or ‘WCAG’, which are the basis for the standards set by Section 508).

The platform also offers training and support to help website owners and developers better understand accessibility guidelines and how to ensure compliance.

Our accessibility consultancy and manual accessibility auditing services help you gain full coverage of every aspect of your website, as well as training your organization to adopt an ‘accessibility first’ mindset at every stage of your product development.

Need help? Get a free accessibility scan of your website

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