Section 508

The Rehabilitation Act

What Is Section 508?

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was enacted to ensure that persons with disabilities are treated fairly in federal agencies. The Act was revised in 1998 to incorporate Section 508 as a result of new technological breakthroughs.

We’ll break down the statute, what it means for businesses, and how Compliant can help you make your website and the internet freely available to everyone.

Per this legislation, federal agencies must produce, buy, and utilize electronic and information technology (EIT) and equipment in a way that does not penalize people with disabilities.

This law mandates that businesses provide disabled employees and ordinary citizens with access to available Information and Communications Technology (ICT). ICT examples are telephones, smartphones, desktop and laptop operating systems, multimedia presentations; even copiers and printers.

What Is Section 255?

Although not part of Section 508, Section 255 of the Communications Act requires all telecommunications products to be accessible to people with disabilities. This includes traditional phones, fax machines, and mobile phones.

The FCC is the official government organization that enforces Section 255. On January 18, 2018, the final rule that updates accessibility requirements covered by Section 508 and Section 255 went into effect.

Why is this legislation important?

In addition to assisting governmental employees with disabilities, Section 508 also makes it easier for private citizens to access crucial information from .gov websites or agencies that routinely do business with federal agencies.

By incorporating an accessible design, it becomes easier for people living with disabilities to access information.

What are the Section 508 standards?

There are a variety of standards in Section 508 summarized below.

  • Websites must allow users who cannot use a keyboard to navigate through the site using a mouse or other cues or means of control.
  • Accessibility features must work properly on a website; for example, a screen reader must have enough data about an image or an image ID to describe it to a user.
  • Applications and software cannot disrupt or discontinue existing accessibility features.
  • Users must be able to see the current focus on the screen and whenever that focus moves or changes.
  • Applications allow users to select colors, contrast levels, and other attributes making the display easier to see.
  • If a website uses .gifs or animation to convey information, the information must also be available without movement.
  • Color coding can’t be the only way to convey page content.
  • Every image applet or video will have a corresponding text equivalent page with the same information as a text element (alt descriptions or in element content).
  • Audio files or videos must include closed captions or audio descriptions.
  • Graphics cannot flash more than three times per second to be safe for people with epilepsy to avoid
  • seizures.

What does it mean to be Section 508 compliant?

Essentially, compliance with Section 508 means that all of your electronic information and your website is compatible with various software applications and communication technology used for accessibility. This accessibility can include screen readers, translators, and navigating devices for people with visibility, auditory, or mobility limitations.

Compliance also means that those with disabilities have equal digital accessibility, can complete electronic forms with ease, and that your website follows the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) outlined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

What is the difference between the ADA and Section 508?

The ADA refers to the Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act and applies to companies, government organizations, and nonprofits. The ADA states that these entities must make their services and information accessible and available to the general public by making accommodations for people living with disabilities.

Unlike Section 508, the ADA applies to everyone online in the US. Section 508 is a much narrower act and focuses primarily on government employees and people who need to access governmental websites.

Since the ADA is a broader act, it encompasses websites made by various private individuals, organizations, companies, and federal agencies. It expands on the standards utilized in Section 508. It requires that everyone incorporate those standards into their websites to make it easier for people living with disabilities to access their products, services, and information.

What is the difference between Section 504 and Section 508?

These two Sections frequently overlap since they are both intended to prevent bias and discrimination against people with disabilities.

Section 504 goes a step further than 508 and mandates that people with disabilities have the same opportunity to participate in and benefit from federal services. This extra step often includes distributing information that relates to Section 508.

However, in Section 504, agencies must also provide other types of aids beyond distributing information when necessary.

They must ensure that providing their services does not require more time, effort, or expense from people with disabilities. They might need to provide alternative methods of distributing information using braille, interpreters, video captions, or ensuring that disabled people can participate equally.

Section 504 can be fulfilled through Section 508 but requires that agencies allocate resources to providing extra resources when requested.

Who must follow Section 508?

As noted, Section 508 applies to government websites and agencies, the employees, and members of the public who need access to information via governmental websites.

Federal Agencies

Federal agencies are the primary focus for Section 508. The intended goal is that people with disabilities can work as government employees and find public information as private citizens of the United States.

Companies who do business with federal agencies

Companies that routinely do business with federal agencies include legal organizations, healthcare companies, private contractors, and sometimes businesses in the financial industry.

Even if you are not directly affiliated with the government, you are held to similar standards from Section 508 so that your employees can perform their jobs without discrimination or bias due to their disabilities.

Who enforces Section 508?

The Access Board is responsible for creating and implementing standards, but all federal agencies are responsible for enforcing Section 508 against themselves. There is limited oversight from other agencies or the Department of Justice.

If an agency is found non-compliant with Section 508, it must provide a reasonable explanation to the Board explaining why it is non-compliant and its timeline and plans for becoming compliant. Otherwise, the agency risks lawsuits for discrimination against people with disabilities.

How do you perform a 508 compliance test?

There are a few different ways to test your website and information to check if you are compliant with Section 508 addressed in the sections below. We’ll list their pros and cons, as well as their use.

Automated testing tools

Automated testing tools work well for websites with mountains of content because they can sift through a high volume of pages and text quickly and efficiently without error. You’ll need to ensure that your automated tools have a setting that tests for WCAG 2.0 Level AA which will test everything according to the original and revised standards of Section 508.

However, one major drawback of automated testing tools is the lack of subjectivity inherent in any automated process. The tools can’t test for everything, so you’ll have to keep in mind the limitations of the tools you employ.

Many agencies prefer to use automated testing tools in conjunction with human reviewers. This type of testing is known as hybrid testing and is discussed in greater detail below.

Manual testing

There are various training courses and webinars that can teach developers and testers how to identify the aspects and standards of Section 508 to ensure the website’s elements comply.

Manual testing has some advantages over automated tools because humans can perform multiple tests and can use common sense or critical thinking skills for solutions or workarounds.

The ICT Testing Baseline gives recommendations about evaluating content in compliance with Section 508 to remove ambiguity and answer frequently asked questions. However, manual testing is labor-intensive compared to automated testing and may not be realistic for agencies who:

  • Can’t allocate employees for the project,
  • Have a strict deadline,
  • Or have a high volume of content.

Hybrid testing

Hybrid testing is often the best way to approach wide-scale Section 508 compliance testing. Hybrid testing incorporates automated tools and the flexibility and subjectivity of human reviewers.

By incorporating accessibility standards at the beginning of the process with the human developers, you can ensure that later on, when using automated tools, fewer issues will arise.


Section 508 sets a series of standards for federal agencies by mandating that when they make changes to their information, the information must be optimally accessible by everyone, regardless of disabilities.

The legislation helps direct the funding in those agencies towards accessibility. It makes it easier for people with disabilities to work for the government and learn new information from important federal websites.

Contact us today to see how we can help your website stay Compliant with changing laws.