Rehabilitation Act of 1973
What is the Rehabilitation Act of 1973?
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by, receiving financial assistance from, or employing federal employees or contractors in federal agencies. The Rehabilitation Act has several Sections impacting digital accessibility, including 504 and 508:
Section 504 prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in federal entities, or programs that receive federal financial assistance. It aims to protect children and adults with disabilities from exclusion, and unequal treatment in schools, jobs and the community. Section 504 sets the stage for enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Specifically, Section 504 requires that school districts provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to qualified students in their jurisdictions who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, regardless of the nature or severity of the disability. Under Section 504, FAPE means providing regular or special education and related aids and services designed to meet the student’s individual educational needs as adequately as the needs of non-disabled students are met.
Subsequent amendments to the Rehabilitation act of 1973 strengthened requirements for access to electronic and information technology in the federal sector.
Section 508, an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, mandates that all electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by the federal government be accessible to people with disabilities, including employees and members of the public. Specifically, the rule references WCAG 2.0 Level AA success criteria and applies them not only to websites, but also to electronic documents and software.
If your company falls under the jurisdiction of Section 508 compliance, the following technologies must be accessible:
- Computer software and hardware
- Mobile apps
- Videos, multimedia and all other digital content
On January 18, 2017 the Access Board, an independent federal agency that promotes equality for people with disabilities, issued a final rule or “508 Refresh” that updates accessibility requirements for information and communication technology in the federal sector.
Section 508 Refresh
The Section 508 refresh jointly updates and reorganizes the Section 508 standards 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 information and communication technology. Specifically, the rule references WCAG 2.0 Level AA success criteria and applies them not only to websites, but also to electronic documents and software.
How does Section 508 impact state and municipal government entities?
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’s .gov site and search “Accessibility Statement,” and you will find the exact requirements.