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In 1998 the US Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. 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. The law applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology. Under Section 508 (29 U.S.C. § 794d), agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to the access available to others.
Section 508 was originally added as an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 in 1986. The original section 508 dealt with electronic and information technologies, in recognition of the growth of this field.
In 1997, The Federal Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility and Compliance Act was proposed in the U.S. legislature to correct the shortcomings of the original section 508; the original Section 508 had turned out to be mostly ineffective, in part due to the lack of enforcement mechanisms. In the end, this Federal Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility and Compliance Act, with revisions, was enacted as the new Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, in 1998.
Section 508 addresses legal compliance through the process of market research and government procurement and also has technical standards against which products can be evaluated to determine if they meet the technical compliance. Because technology can meet the legal provisions and be legally compliant (e.g., no such product exists at time of purchase) but may not meet the technical compliance (doesn't meet the Access Board's technical accessibility standards) users are often confused between these two issues. Additionally, evaluation of compliance can be done only when reviewing the procurement process and documentation used when making a purchase or contracting for development, the changes in technologies and standards themselves, it requires a more detailed understanding of the law and technology than at first seems necessary.
There is nothing in section 508 that requires private web sites to comply unless they are receiving federal funds or under contract with a federal agency. Commercial best practices include voluntary standards and guidelines as the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). Automatic accessibility checkers (engines) such as "IBM Rational Policy Tester" and AccVerify, refer to Section 508 guidelines but have difficulty in accurately testing content for accessibility.
The guidelines are currently being updated by the Telecommunications and Electronic and Information Technology Advisory Committee (TEITAC).
U.S. General Services Administration Center for IT Accommodation (CITA) 1800 F Street, N.W. Room 1234, MC:MKC Washington, DC 20405-0001 www.gsa.gov/section508 (202) 501-4906 (voice) (202) 501-2010 (TTY)
The original legislation mandated that the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, known as the Access Board, establish a draft for their Final Standards for accessibility for such electronic and information technologies in December 2001. The final standards were approved in April 2001 and became enforceable on June 25, 2001.
The latest information about these standards and about support available from the Access Board in implementing them, as well as the results of surveys conducted to assess compliance, is available from the Board's newsletter Access Currents. The Section 508 Standards, tools, and resources are available from The Center for Information Technology Accommodation (CITA), in the U.S. General Services Administration's Office of Government-wide Policy at section508.gov.
Also note that an agency can still be in legal compliance by meeting one of the § 1194.3 General exceptions (e.g., the NSA). However, systems which are critical to the direct fulfillment of military or intelligence missions do not include a system that is to be used for routine administrative and business applications (including payroll, finance, logistics, and personnel management applications) and therefore must be Section 508 compliant.
Castro, I. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, (2000). Policy guidance on executive order 13164: establishing procedures to facilitate the provision of reasonable accommodation Retrieved from http://archive.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/accommodation_procedures.html Reuters, T. (2011). Rehabilitation act. Retrieved from http://public.findlaw.com/bookshelf-disability-rights-laws/anchor65610.html Weaver, T. Office of Governmentwide Policy, (2011). Section 508 laws Retrieved from http://www.section508.gov/index.cfm
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