What Is Section 508 and What Is 508 Remediation?

October 1, 2020
Scott Schulfer
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Digital accessibility is booming for two reasons.

One, the size of the market segment excluded by inaccessible websites and digital documents is massive.

Two, the legal risk that comes with publishing inaccessible content is persistent and unavoidable. ADA website law legal action is skyrocketing.

ADA web compliance, for example, is now required over an ever-growing range of digital documents and experiences—even outside of commerce. Local governments, schools, bars, restaurants, hospitals, and banks are all working toward ADA compliance. We made an ADA remediation calculator to help bars and restaurants estimate how much it'll cost to bring their menus up to snuff.

And Section 508 compliance is keeping right up. Here’s what Section 508 is and how to comply with it. 

What Is Section 508?

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires all federal agencies give people with disabilities access to electronic and information technology that’s comparable to the access others have.

Electronic and information technology is defined in the law as "any equipment or interconnected system or subsystem of equipment, that is used in the automatic acquisition, storage, manipulation, management, movement, control, display, switching, interchange, transmission, or reception of data or information.”

Woof. That’s legalese for sure. Let’s break it down.

Section 508 covers all computer hardware, software, and networks, along with commonly used electronic and communications devices. Most talk about compliance with Section 508 is concerned with documents because many people interact with federal agencies through forms. But Section 508 is broader than that. It covers websites, apps, and physical electronics as well.

ADA Section 508 and ADA 508 Compliance

Section 508 is not a part of the ADA. It’s part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. They’re two separate laws. But it’s similar in spirit to the ADA.

A good way to understand Section 508 is to compare it to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA doesn’t state anything about electronic or information technology specifically, but ADA website law is set on precedent. The ADA has been found to cover websites because websites are “places of public accommodation.”

Unlike the ADA, Section 508 includes specific references to electronic and information technology and includes a list of standards. It also applies only to federal agencies or contractors or vendors who work with federal agencies.

Think of all the touchpoints the public has with federal agencies: assistance programs, healthcare, taxation, and more. The purpose of Section 508 is to make sure people with disabilities have the same access to these functions of the federal government as everyone else.

What Is 508 Remediation? Content Remediation.

508 remediation is the process of making electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities, in accordance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. 

Again, 508 compliance requires general accessibility remediation. That includes documents, websites, mobile apps, and hardware.

But while the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 spells out far more specifics than the ADA in its standards, it still guides people toward the WCAG guidelines:

“IT Accessibility Standards as outlined in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, and the Revised 508 Standards, do not provide a required way to test for conformance. Best practice is to consult the Web Accessibility Initiative’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 Level AA.”

In that sense, 508 remediation is similar to how to make a website ADA compliant: institute—and test against—WCAG technical guidelines.

Even though the federal government recommends testing against WCAG 2.0 AA standards for 508 compliance, over 75% of ADA lawsuits reference WCAG 2.1 AA standards. The 2.1 version includes numerous extra accessibility checks. We always recommend that businesses kill two birds with one stone and work toward the WCAG 2.1 AA standard. It eradicates your risk and makes your web accessibility statement that much stronger.

508 Document Remediation

508 document remediation gets its own section because most 508 remediation centers around documents. That’s because many public touch points with federal agencies involve downloading and submitting text-based documents.

Types of 508 Document Remediation

508 document remediation includes the following formats, all particularly prevalent in federal agencies:

  • PDFs. PDF accessibility is a big one because a PDF is, by nature, the least accessible text-based document there is. Because it’s a picture of text. Screen readers can’t comb through a PDF’s structure and parse its component parts. Unless, of course, it’s remediated.
  • Presentations. PowerPoints and Google Slides presentations must also be 508 compliant. That includes many of the same things a web accessibility checker checks for. Logical content structure, the right color contrast, alt text for images, properly labeled forms, charts, and graphs, and more. If you learn how to check if a website is ADA compliant, you’ll learn how to test your digital assets against WCAG 2.1 AA standards. And that’s exactly what you have to do to with 508 compliance remediation—with entire websites or PowerPoint presentations.
  • Word processor files. Creating 508 compliant word processor documents, like Microsoft Word or Google Doc files, is mostly about structure and clarity. Using logical, nested headings (like in any good outline) and clearly labeling visual elements like tables, charts, and graphs are the two big ones. But proper color contrast ratio is important, too, if your document is more than black letters on a white background.
  • Spreadsheets. 508 compliance remediation can focus on Excel and Google Sheets documents, too. Ensuring logical reading order, high color contrast ratio, descriptions of visual and multimedia assets, and background information accessibility all play a part.

You can click on the first link in each above bullet to visit the government’s specific guidance about 508 document remediation.

Finding a 508 Document Remediation Specialist

The majority of 508 remediation services are done by a third-party 508 document remediation specialist. And it can cost thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on the size of your document catalog.

But 508 remediation services are worth it. A good 508 document remediation specialist gets you in line with the law and removes the legal risk you assume by putting content online.

The best way to choose a 508 document remediation specialist or company is to make sure their work covers all the standards in the 508 documentation but has also been tested against the WCAG 2.0 or 2.1 AA guidelines. You heard it straight from the horse’s mouth above: Section 508 provides no suggested testing methods. The best way to actually check your content against success criteria is following the WCAG checks.

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That’s What 508 Remediation Is!

The path to 508 compliance is relatively clear, but it takes a fair amount of effort. Especially for agencies with years worth of documents floating around online. 

ADA compliance can be a little murkier because of the absence of stated standards. Though years of ADA legal action has teased out that the WCAG 2.1 AA standard is the best way to achieve ADA compliance.

Accessibility remediation is an ongoing and expensive process, whether you’re a federal agency or a private business. But hospitality businesses can remove a lot of the legal risk for a fraction of the cost other businesses have to pay. That’s because they can roll out ADA-compliant digital menus. Partnering with a technology company and paying around $1 per day can turn one of the biggest legal risks bars and restaurants have—inaccessible digital menus—into a huge asset.

SproutQR does that with its ADA-compliant QR code menus for businesses across the country. Looming lawsuits turn into contactless, hygienic, customizable QR code menus. Book a demo and we’ll show you how.

Eliminate the hassle, cost, and risk of single-use paper menus. Schedule a demo now:
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