The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is an anti-discrimination law which requires federally funded programs to provide certain accommodations to people with disabilities.*The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires access to programs and activities that are funded by Federal agencies and to Federal employment. The law also established the Access Board (section 502). Later amendments strengthened requirements for access to electronic and information technology in the Federal sector (Section 508). See www.access-board.gov for more details
Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act was the first disability civil rights law to be enacted in the United States. It prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in programs that receive federal financial assistance, and set the stage for enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Section 504 protects children and adults with disabilities from exclusion, and unequal treatment in schools, jobs and the community.
Section 508 was added in 1998 to keep up with the increasing use of the Internet in public institutions. Section 508 applies to the Federal government but there may be implications for employees and others at the State level. Many states have also passed legislation requiring Electronic and Information Technology (EIT), also known as Information and Communication Technology (ICT), accessibility.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a Law that requires Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities. It is important to note that compliance with Section 508 may be required by vendors doing business with federal agencies.
Many states require compliance with Section 508 and have passed laws identical or similar to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, or require compliance with Section 508. Some of these laws are based on the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Guidelines and Standards (WCAG) version 2.0 for web content accessibility.
To confirm the accessibility requirements of your State, visit the State .gov site and search “Accessibility Statement,” and you will find the exact requirements.
Given that more than 15% of the population has a disability that can impede equal access to digital content, there is no reason why every website should not be fully accessible. It is important to keep in mind that all public entities are required to provide equal access under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the failure to provide an accessible website can result in legal action.
It is also important to note that even if not required to make digital content accessible under Section 508, state and local governments are still covered under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in all services, programs, and activities provided to the public by State and local governments.
On January 18, 2017 the Access Board issued a final rule that updates accessibility requirements for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the federal sector covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. The rule also refreshes guidelines for telecommunications equipment subject to Section 255 of the Communications Act.
The rule jointly updates and reorganizes the Section 508 standards and Section 255 guidelines in response to market trends and innovations, such as the convergence of technologies. The refresh also harmonizes these requirements with other guidelines and standards both in the U.S. and abroad, including standards issued by the European Commission and with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a globally recognized voluntary consensus standard for web content and ICT.
In fact, the rule references Level A and Level AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements in WCAG 2.0 and applies them not only to websites, but also to electronic documents and software. In short, the refresh is a new standard in alignment with changing technology.
As of January 18, 2018, federal agencies are subject to the new requirements under the 508 Refresh.
Entities that receive federal funding and are subject to Section 508 should check with their funding source for requirements and/or timelines.
There is an administrative complaint process which becomes effective six months after the Board issued its final standards. It enables any individual with a disability to file a complaint alleging that a Federal department or agency has not complied with the accessible technology standards in a procurement made after that date. The complaint process is the same as that used for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, for complaints alleging discrimination on the basis of disability in Federally-conducted programs or activities. It provides injunctive relief and attorney's fees to the prevailing party, but does not include compensatory or punitive damages.
Individuals may also file a civil action against an agency.
Source: United States Access Board
Section 255 of the Communications Act, as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, requires telecommunications products and services to be accessible to people with disabilities. Manufacturers must ensure that products are “designed, developed, and fabricated to be accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities” when it is readily achievable to do so. Accessibility guidelines issued by the Board under Section 255 address the telecommunications products covered including:
* wired and wireless telecommunication devices, such as telephones (including pay phones and cellular phones), pagers, and fax machines
* other products that have a telecommunication service capability, such as computers with modems
* equipment that carriers use to provide services, such as a phone company’s switching equipment.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is responsible for enforcing the Communications Act and has issued regulations that contain requirements based on the Board’s guidelines.