The Section 508 was originally an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The Federal Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility and Compliance Act was proposed to correct the shortcomings and ineffectiveness of Section 508 during 1997. In the end, the Information Technology Accessibility and Compliance Act were enacted as the new Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, in 1998.

There is nothing in the old Section 508 that requires private websites to comply unless they are receiving federal funds or under contract with a federal agency. But now is a different time – not only does private websites are required to comply, but they also need to follow the updated standards of Section 508, and the guidelines of Section 255 for Information and Communication Technology which says that your website should be accessible to every person with a disability.

But what exactly are the goals of this refresh?

The Board updated the Section 508 Standards and Section 255 Guidelines to ensure that the accessibility and the spectrum of Information and Communication Technologies are consistent. This refresh is to also enhance the accessibility of ICT for people with disabilities, make the requirements easy to follow, and to harmonize the requirements with other standards in the U.S and other foreign countries. This means that all users must be able to understand, comprehend, perceive, navigate, interact with, and contribute to your website. It should provide equal access and opportunity to people with disabilities.

The major changes to the final rule focus on the revision of both the structure and substance of the ICT requirements to further accessibility, facilitate compliance, and make the document easier to use.
These Major changes include:
  1. Focus on Functionality – Organizes by functionality instead of product type, to keep pace with advances in technology.
  2. Industry Alignment – Incorporates Web Content Accessibility Guidelines(link is external) (WCAG) 2.0, developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international community that creates web standards. Clarifies applicability to websites, electronic documents, and software.
  3. Content Accessibility – Requires all public-facing official agency business content, as well as specific categories of non-public-facing content that is official agency business, to be accessible.
  4. Synchronized Tools and Tech – Clarifies that software and operating systems must inter-operate with assistive technology.
  5. Expanded Marketplace – Incorporates by reference selected international standards like WCAG 2.0, and harmonizes with European Commission ICT Standards (EN 301 549), to create a larger marketplace of accessibility solutions.

The final rule applies WCAG 2.0 not only to web-based content but to all electronic content. This means that even the documents embedded on your website should be accessible and easy-to-access to all users including the people with disabilities.

Like the original 508 Standards, the updated 508 Standards apply to a federal agency’s full range of public-facing content, including websites, documents and media, blog posts, and social media sites. The final rule also specifically lists the types of non-public-facing content that must comply. This includes electronic content used by a federal agency for official business to communicate: emergency notifications, initial or final decisions adjudicating administrative claims or proceedings, internal or external program or policy announcements, notices of benefits, program eligibility, employment opportunities or personnel actions, formal acknowledgments or receipts, questionnaires or surveys, templates or forms, educational or training materials, and web-based intranets.

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