Is ADA Compliance the Same as 508 Compliance?

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Is ADA Compliance the Same as 508 Compliance?

Posted June 02, 2022


Posted June 02, 2022

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires U.S. businesses that serve the public to ensure equal access for people with disabilities. According to the Department of Justice, the law applies to digital content and services. However, the ADA is just one of the laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. As you start to research accessibility compliance, you’ll also find references to Section 508

Referring to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, this portion of the law requires federal agencies to make all information and communications technology (ICT) free of “undue burden” for employees and users with disabilities.   

So is ADA compliance the same as Section 508 compliance? Technically, no — but the practical requirements of each often overlap. Here’s a breakdown of the differences and similarities between ADA and 508 compliance, particularly as they relate to digital accessibility. 

To begin your path to compliance with both Section 508 and the ADA, test your website for accessibility issues.

A blue courthouse labeled 508 and a blue place of business labeled ADA

Contrasting the ADA with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act

The ADA and Section 508 share the goal of eliminating discrimination against people with disabilities, but they address different types of organizations. This is the most important distinction between the ADA and Section 508: 

The ADA applies to businesses “open to the public,” as well as state and local governments whereas Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act applies to federal agencies.

Organizations seeking Section 508 compliance also often product a VPAT, or Voluntary Product Accessibility Template. A VPAT is a document that outlines how a product or service complies with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

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The Rehabilitation Act includes much more than Section 508, and other parts of the law go beyond federal agencies. Section 504 requires all organizations that receive federal assistance to provide accessibility information and services to people with disabilities. 

That includes government contractors and institutions that get federal funding, including airports, universities, libraries, public school systems, and all the vendors that supply them. However, accessibility experts often use “Section 508” as shorthand for all the digital requirements of the Rehabilitation Act, including Section 504.   

The comparatively narrow scope of Section 508 is another contrast with the ADA. The ADA is extremely broad, and applies to public and private organizations alike. It addresses accessibility in the workplace, in physical spaces, and (increasingly) online. Section 508 is only concerned with ICT accessibility — which includes websites.  

Despite these differences, in order to comply with either the ADA or Section 508, business owners and webmasters need to comply with the latest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). 

A computer browser and a checklist titled WCAG Checklist with list items that read alternate text, more than color, keyboard interface, webpage titles, and navigational elements

WCAG in ADA and Section 508 Compliance

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines provide authoritative standards for accessible web design. Published and revised by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), WCAG lists distinct “success criteria” for websites and other digital properties. These criteria allow webmasters to find and improve site elements that fail to comply with the ADA or Section 508.

Following a 2018 update, Section 508 explicitly requires regulated websites to conform to WCAG 2.0 standards at the AA level. (WCAG specifies three levels of conformance, from A to AAA. Level AA includes all the Level A success criteria, with additional requirements to support assistive technologies, such as screen readers.) 

The text of the ADA doesn’t mention WCAG – the law was passed in 1990, while the first WCAG version wasn’t published until 1999. But the Department of Justice, which is responsible for enforcing the law, recommends WCAG as a leading tool to help with ADA compliance. 

So whether you’re concerned with creating an ADA-compliant website, complying with Section 508, or both, strive for compliance with Level AA WCAG success criteria. That begins with testing your site for WCAG failures. 

An internet browser with blue gears, a keyboard, and a magnifying glass

Testing Your Website for ADA or Section 508 Compliance

With more than 70 success criteria to cover, it’s not easy to test your website for Level AA standards on your own. Luckily, tools and assistance are available. Web accessibility testing can be either automated or manual, and both types of testing are necessary for building and maintaining accessible digital content.

A 508 compliance checklist can be a helpful tool for testing your website for both Section 508 or ADA compliance. It can help ensure that all necessary criteria are covered and can serve as a reference during the testing process.

1. Automated Testing for ADA and Section 508 Compliance

Accessibility testing software can uncover valuable opportunities for improvement. While they’re not substitutes for human testing, automated accessibility testing tools provide a great first step for improving website accessibility. Scanning your website can discover accessibility flaws, such as: 

  • Missing text descriptions (alt text) for images
  • Lack of captioning in videos
  • Unlabeled navigation buttons
  • Confusing HTML header configuration
  • Low color contrast

You can also use a color contrast tool to check your site’s color scheme for accessibility. According to WCAG, text must have a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 (the first numeral represents the brightness of the text, while the latter number represents the background). This tool makes it easy to see if your site meets this requirement. 

Of course, WCAG also includes more subjective criteria, like providing clear instructions and accurate alt text. Evaluating these criteria requires human judgment.

2. Manual Testing for ADA and Section 508 Compliance

Accessibility experts uncover WCAG failures that automated solutions today can’t detect. They may use assistive technology, such as screen readers, magnification software, or alternative input devices. This allows testers to experience your website like a broad audience of real-life users, identifying accessibility flaws that automated tools don’t. 

AudioEye offers manual testing and remediation services, performed by experts accredited with the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP). Members of the AudioEye A11iance, who have disabilities and use assistive devices every day, provide further testing and critical insight. 

3. Ongoing Monitoring and Remediation

So often businesses assume that by implementing a simple widget, fixing a handful of issues, or manually auditing their sites on a quarterly basis is enough to meet accessibility requirements. In reality, accessibility is an ongoing effort, and continuous monitoring plays a key part in it. 

Active Monitoring is a critical piece of AudioEye’s solution that allows for ongoing accessibility. Every time a visitor loads a new page on a website that uses AudioEye, Active Monitoring is deployed. The software tests for new accessibility issues, gathering information across all users and pages of a website, then deploys automated remediations. That information, which covers all users and all pages – is shared with site owners via Issue Reporting in a centralized, user-friendly dashboard. 

Issue Reporting provides a real-time, granular understanding of the accessibility issues on a website that were found, fixed, or flagged by AudioEye’s technology for human review and intervention.

The combination of Active Monitoring and manual testing provides the best of both worlds: a fast, low-cost way of detecting and resolving the majority of emerging accessibility problems as your website changes, plus an option for expert testing and remediation of more complex issues that require human judgment.

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