U.S. Government Section 508 Legislation

In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology (E&IT) accessible to people with disabilities. E&IT includes, but is not limited to, computers, software, firmware and similar procedures, services (including support services), telecommunications products (such as telephones), information kiosks and transaction machines, Web sites, multimedia, and office equipment such as copiers and fax machines.

At its most simple, Section 508 requires agencies to give disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to the access available to others. The law applies to all Federal agencies whenever they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology.

Any vendor wishing to sell to the Federal Government (and most other government agencies, including school systems) must demonstrate its products are “508-compliant” in order to be approved for purchase. There is a large industry around Washington, D.C., that certifies software, electronic documents, and forms as 508-complaint so the Federal Government can buy them.

The following are some of the guidelines one should follow in developing 508-compliant software and Web pages:

  • When software is designed to run on a system that has a keyboard, product functions shall be executable from a keyboard.
  • Text descriptions (that can be read using accessibility tools) must accompany all images.
  • Application must follow industry standards of consistency and interoperability.
  • Applications shall not override user selected contrast and color selections and other individual display attributes.
  • Color coding and other visual cues shall not be used as the only means of conveying information, indicating an action, prompting a response, or distinguishing a visual element.

There is a software program called “Bobby” that analyzes Web sites for compliance with Section 508 standards. Such Web sites can be certified as “Bobby approved.”

See http://www.section508.gov.
See http://www.buyaccessible.gov.

Added by Bob Jarvis.