GSA Section 508 and Accessibility
What is Section 508
In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. 794d) to require federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology public content accessible to people with disabilities. Inaccessible technology interferes with an individual's ability to obtain and use information quickly and easily. Section 508 was enacted to eliminate barriers in information technology, to make available new opportunities for people with disabilities and to encourage development of technologies that will help achieve these goals.
Section 508 requires that when federal agencies develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology, federal employees with disabilities have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access and use by federal employees who are not individuals with disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the agency. Section 508 also requires that individuals with disabilities, who are members of the public seeking information or services from a federal agency, have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to that provided to the public who are not individuals with disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the agency.
Contrary to what you may read on the web, Section 508 does not directly apply to private sector websites or to public websites which are not U.S. federal agency websites. In fact it does not even apply to the Congress or to the Judiciary. It also does not (generally) apply to agencies or establishments using federal funds.
What is Web Accessibility
Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can use the web. More specifically, web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate and interact with the web and that they can contribute to the web. Web accessibility also benefits people without disabilities, including older people with changing abilities due to aging.
Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities affecting access to the web, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive and neurological disabilities. Millions of people have disabilities which affect their use of the web. Currently, most websites and web software have accessibility barriers which make it difficult or impossible for many people with disabilities to use the web. As more accessible websites and software become available, people with disabilities are able to use and contribute to the web more effectively.
Web accessibility also benefits people without disabilities. For example, a key principle of web accessibility is designing websites and software which are flexible to meet different user needs, preferences and situations. This flexibility also benefits people without disabilities in certain situations, such as people using a slow Internet connection, or people with "temporary disabilities" such as a broken arm.
Want more information? Refer to section508.gov.