Research on Section 508

The present document summarizes some of the content from the fed's site on "Section 508" (www.section508.gov) an addition to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that is often cited in discussions of Web site accessibility.

It stands to mention that Section 508 is a policy that pertains to federal agencies, but a significant number of businesses have adopted it as guidelines for their own practices.


In general, the act is a requirement placed upon federal agencies to make their facilities accessible to those employees and members of the general public disabled. Section 508 was added to address informational resources in non-print media (including, but not limited to, computer systems and Web sites).

I find it curious that there is no mention of the applicability of the legislation. In particular, if information is available via other media (a person can call, order a printed publication, etc.), this would seem to mitigate the importance of accessibility in redundant media. The information in redundant media is provided for convenience of users capable of using those media, but those who are incapable of using those media are not necessarily denied access (they merely cannot use a specific medium to access it).

It also seems likely that this requirement would make agencies reluctant to utilize computerized resources, but instead stick to the older methods of information handling (paper and ink) rather than undertake the effort to meet these policies ... but there's no way to assess that impact, as the average citizen cannot know what is purposefully not being done, nor the reasons behind that purpose.

1194.1 Purpose

This act requires federal agencies to ensure that any information resources or services provided by government agencies by computer must be done some in a manner that is accessible to federal employees and members of the general public with disabilities.

1194.2 Application

An agency must ensure that all "products" (in this sense, items that contain information) are in compliance unless "an undue burden" would be imposed on the agency by doing so.

1194.3 General exceptions

The military and intelligence community are exempted from the requirements of this act, and certain common-sense provisions are made (e.g., it's not necessary to provide assistive software to employees who are not disabled)

1194.4 Definitions

This section defines specific terms in painstaking detail. I'll skip this section and provide definitions in the context where they seem germane.

1194.5 Equivalent facilitation

The use of designs or technologies that provide equivalent or better accessibility is not prohibited.

1194.21 Software applications and operating systems

This section lays out a list of specific features, the most significant of which are keyboard accessibility, accommodating (and not interfering with) assistive technology, provision of redundant data where its primary delivery method is inaccessible, and a few specific requirements (use of color, avoid flashing at specific frequencies, etc.)

1194.22 Web-based intranet and internet information and applications.

These rules are specific to internet/intranet, so I'll provide the full set:

1194.23 Telecommunications products

These guidelines are specific to telecommunications (voice) systems - voice mail, messaging, interactive voice response systems - and the nature of equipment that must be provided for use on site to accommodate the hearing impaired.

1194.24 Video and multimedia products

These guidelines pertain to devices used to viewing video (broadcast, cable, and recorded media) and audio material and the nature of equipment that must be provided to accommodate on-site viewing by the visually impaired.

1194.25 Self contained, closed products

Self-contained products refer to items where hardware and software are not interchangeable, but are provided (or developed) as a set in such a way that they must be used as a singular device (the information cannot be taken and played on a separate device) - examples would be kiosk media, digital signage, multimedia presentations at fixed locations, etc.

1194.26 Desktop and portable computers

Provides guidelines for equipment used on-site.

1194.31 Functional performance criteria

Indicates there must be "at least one mode of operation and information retrieval" provided for specific conditions: does not require vision, does not require visual acuity greater than 20/70, does not require hearing, does not require speech, does note require fine motor control or simultaneous actions, and is operable with limited reach and strength.

1194.41 Information, documentation, and support

In addition to information products, any supporting documentation provided for any product or service provided by any government agency must be available in various formats and provided at no additional charge, and support services (such as phone numbers) must also accommodate the communication needs of disabled end-users.


Information about compliance with this legislation, along with other resources on the topic of accessibility, are on a separate site that requires a password to access.