Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973

In the foreground is a blind man with headphones, sharing the same computer terminal with a sighted woman who is looking at the screen over his shoulder. Behind them are two more people working individually at another two computer terminals, neither of them are using headphones.

What is Section 508?

Section 508 is an amendment to the Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which U.S. President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1998. Section 508 requires that U.S. federal departments and agencies to develop, procure, maintain, or use only electronic and information technology (“EIT”) that is accessible for people with disabilities, unless doing so would be an “undue burden” on the department or agency. This requirement for accessible EIT includes website content, and covers both federal employees, who should have the same access to and use of information as their colleagues without disabilities, as well as members of the public seeking information or services from a federal department or agency.

The law required the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (commonly referred to in the U.S. as the “Access Board”) to consult with various major federal agencies and departments and enact specific, accessibility standards, not less than 8 months after the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 were enacted. These standards are binding upon federal departments and agencies. Section 508 does not directly apply to private sector EIT, not even those private entities that receive federal funding or financial assistance. However, Section 508 still has considerable ongoing influence beyond federally conducted programs and activities in at least these two ways:

  1. The federal government is a major purchaser of EIT, and it is obligated to purchase accessible systems, which in turn influences the private companies that design and sell EIT systems.
  2. All U.S. state governments receive funding under the Assistive Technology Act of 1998, and must sign federal assurances that the state itself will fully implement Section 508 before they can receive federal funding. A number of states have simply gone ahead and enacted a state law that mirrors Section 508 for state agencies and departments.

Federal employees and members of the public with disabilities can enforce Section 508 in one of three ways.

  1. An individual can file an administrative complaint with the federal agency or department that is alleged to be in violation of Section 508.
  2. An individual can file a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights.
  3. And finally, an individual can file a private lawsuit in federal district court. Every two years from 2001 onward, the U.S. Attorney General is required to report to both the President and to Congress on the state of disability accessibility of EIT, and to summarize how Section 508 complaints filed against federal departments and agencies have been resolved.

Resources to Learn More about Section 508

Full Text of Section 508

The Access Board completed it’s work and published EIT standards on December 21, 2000. Available for download below and online via the Access Board website here.

Overview of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Web Accessibility In Mind (WebAIM) provides an overview of Sections 504 and 508 in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 here.

508 Compliance Checker

Users can visit this link to find who must be compliant with Section 508 and what they must do in order to be compliant.

508 Accessibility Checklists

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers checklists at this link that can help ensure that various types of electronic document are in compliance with Section 508 accessibility requirements.

Web Accessibility Tutorial

This website provides a tutorial that can help people learn how to make websites accessible. It provides an overview of the requirements of Section 508 and provides a series of tutorials that can help people learn how to make images, audio media, tables, forms, and other web elements accessible for users with disabilities.

Accessibility: Make Your Online Training 508 Compliant

Monarch Media provides guidance on how to make an online training program accessible for users with disabilities.