In 1998, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was amended to require federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. This amendment, Section 508, requires federal agencies to make Information and Communications Technology (ICT) accessible for everyone.

On January 18, 2018, Section 508 Refresh goes into effect. This “Refresh” puts into law long awaited updates to its accessibility requirements for ICT.

Why update Section 508 standards?

It’s been roughly 20 years since Section 508 was amended. Technologies have changed quite a bit since then. Section 508 requirements have not, making it out-of-date, so to speak. This “Refresh” serves several needs:

  • To make sure it is up to date with modern standards
  • Align itself internationally
  • To address growing human needs

The “Refreshed” Section 508

In short, everything current is being revised, it will adopt the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, and a Safe Harbor provision put in place. There are other components to the Refresh, but I will only be covering the items below in this post:

    • All existing 508 requirements have been revised. This replaces the current product-based approach and will ensure that accessibility will more align itself to advances in ICT.
    • Adoption of standards for electronic content, software, hardware and support services (WCAG 2.0)
      • Specifically, conformance will cover WCAG 2.0 Level A and Level AA Success Criteria (Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 cross reference table).
      • WCAG 2.0 is internationally recognized (became and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard in 2012)
      • Addresses gaps in original Section 508 standards.
    • Safe Harbor Provision: “E202.2 Any component or portion of existing ICT that complies with an earlier standard issued pursuant to section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, and that has not been altered on or after January 18, 2018 shall not be required to be modified to conform to the revised 508 standards.” – reference.

Final Note

The long-awaited Section 508 Refresh is a huge step forward for accessibility. It’s previous standards were out of date, dry, and sometimes hard to interpret. WCAG 2.0 is a user-friendly set of guidelines which are inline with current technologies and international standards. The revisions of 508 and the adoption of WCAG 2.0 bring Section 508 current with accessibility standards and, more importantly, address growing human needs in our ever-growing digital world.