Updating Section 508 - Comment Today on the Proposed Rule Changes!

question markOn February 27, 2015, the U.S. Access Board published a proposed update to the rules implementing Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which outlines the federal standards and guidelines for making information and communications technology (ICT) accessible to people with disabilities.  The public has until May 28, 2015 to submit comments on the changes. 

To read the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, submit comments, or review the comments others are submitting, go to and enter “Section 508” in the search box.

Here are the top 6 questions PEATworks readers are asking about the proposed changes:

QUESTION 1:  What is the purpose of Section 508?

Section 508 is intended to eliminate barriers in  information and communications technology (ICT), open new opportunities for people with disabilities, and encourage development of technologies that will help achieve these goals.  Specifically, Section 508 mandates that federal agencies: (1) develop, procure, maintain, or use ICT in a way that ensures federal employees with disabilities have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to that of employees without disabilities, and (2) Ensure that members of the public with disabilities have comparable access to publicly-available information and services.  

QUESTION 2:  Why did the Access Board issue this notice?

The Access Board issued this Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to revise and update the Section 508 rules related ICT.  [It also updates the guidelines for telecommunication equipment covered by Section 255 of the Communications Act of 1934.]  After the comment period ends, the Access Board will review and consider all of the comments it receives before issuing a final rule.

QUESTION 3: Why do the Section 508 rules need to be changed?

The existing Section 508 standards came out in 2000 – and to say technology has changed a bit since then is an understatement!  The existing standards and guidelines are definitely in need of a “refresh to keep up with technological changes. The proposed revisions provide updated standards to ensure that covered hardware, software, telecommunications, electronic content, and support documentation and services are accessible to everyone. 

QUESTION 4:  What are the major revisions being proposed?

Key changes and updates in the proposed rule include the following – 

  • Replacement of Section 508’s current product-based approach with requirements based on functionality. This would ensure that accessibility for people with disabilities keeps pace with advances in ICT;

  • Harmonization of the Section 508 standards with internationally-recognized Web accessibility standards: the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).  This will create a larger marketplace for accessibility solutions and increase the commercial availability of accessible ICT options;

  • Requirements that federal agencies make all their public-facing content accessible, which includes all forms of electronic information and data. In addition, non-public facing content must be accessible if it communicates official agency business through specified channels (such as emergency notifications and personnel actions); and

  • Specific guidelines on how operating systems and software applications should interact with assistive technologies (e.g., screen readers and voice recognition software) – thus allowing users of assistive technology to take full advantage of the functionalities ICT products provide. Under the proposed rule, federal agencies must ensure that all functionality of ICT is accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, either directly or by supporting the use of assistive technology.

QUESTION 5:  Does Section 508 really matter to private employers?

Yes! If you're a private business that sells ICT to the federal government, those products must be built to meet the Section 508 accessibility standards.  In addition, many state governments and private employers have adopted the Section 508 standards as a guide for their own accessibility efforts.  With the revised Section 508 guidelines mirroring the WCAG 2.0 standards, many companies will need to improve their accessibility efforts in order to stay competitive.

QUESTION 6:  What does Section 508 have to do with employment?

ICT is a major gateway to both public and private employment.  Recruiting and hiring systems are often web-based, with employers using software and cloud-based tools for online job applications and job-related testing. Likewise, technology is now a key component of nearly all American workflow processes, including timekeeping systems, online employee training programs, and access to information about fringe benefits and corporate activities. In light of the critical role ICT plays in our society in general, and the employment process in particular, updated Section 508 standards are essential.

So check out the Section 508 changes - and weigh in on the proposed rules today!