Understanding 508 and Accessibility

What is Section 508?

Originally part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 508 was strengthened by the 1998 Workforce Investment Act. Section 508 is designed to ensure that individuals with disabilities can access and use electronic and information technologies provided by Federal agencies.

The access provided under Section 508 should be comparable to the access allowed individuals without disabilities, unless it poses an undue burden. Applied on a case-by-case basis, an undue burden exists if making material fully accessible imposes a significant difficulty or expense on the agency. However, even when an undue burden is judged to exist, agencies must make the material accessible in some form or fashion.

When does Section 508 go into effect?

Although President Clinton signed the Workforce Investment Act in 1998, specific standards for Section 508 were not published until December 2000. These standards went into effect and enforcement of Section 508 began on June 21, 2001.

Who does Section 508 cover?

Section 508 covers all federal departments and agencies, including the U.S. Postal Service. In addition, contractors providing services or products to Federal agencies must provide Section 508 compliant deliverables.

What specifically does Section 508 mandate?

The Section 508 standards are technical specifications and performance-based requirements that focus on the functional capabilities covered by technologies. The standards are organized into six sections, including the following:


  • Software Applications and Operating Systems
  • Web-based Intranet and Internet Information and Applications
  • Telecommunications Products
  • Video and Multimedia Products
  • Self-Contained, Closed Products
  • Desktop and Portable Computers

The standards that will be the most relevant to institutions providing distance, Web-enhanced, or blended online courses are those that deal with Web-based intranet and internet information and applications. These standards cover areas such as text tags, color, scripts, electronic forms, multimedia presentations, frames, etc. For more information, please see http://www.access-board.gov/sec508/guide/1194.22.htm.

ADA Web Resources

Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI)
WAI was established by the World Wide Web Consortium to develop guidelines on making the Web accessible to users with disabilities. According to the website, WAI pursues accessibility of the Web through five primary areas: technology, guidelines, tools, education and outreach, and research and development. From this website, you can access guidelines and checklists for making accessible websites, browsers, software programs, and multimedia players.

EASI: Equal Access to Software and Information
EASI's mission is to serve as a resource to the education community by providing information and guidance in the area of access-to-information technologies by individuals with disabilities.

The Access Board: A Federal Agency Committed to Accessible Design
The board has the responsibility for guaranteeing access to people with disabilities. This website has much valuable information on Section 508 and the standards now associated with it.

Federal IT Accessibility Initiative
This website contains information specific to Section 508 and its standards. Although it features some of the same information as the access board Website, it is specifically devoted to Section 508.

Bobby: A web-based tool for analyzing accessibility
Bobby will test web pages to determine the extent to which they are accessible to people with disabilities.