Section 508 vs. ADA Compliance

When talking about accessibility initiatives, people may use “ADA compliance” as a shorthand way to capture all things related to accessibility. However, there are other federal regulations besides the Americans With Disabilities Act, such as Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, that cover specific aspects of accessibility. While the goal of both these laws is to create equal access for people with disabilities, it helps to understand the differences and how they impact your business.

In this post, we will define what each law covers, highlight the similarities and differences, and discuss how your company can ensure it complies with both laws.

About the ADA

The Americans With Disabilities Act, or ADA, prohibits discrimination against people based upon their disability in all areas of life, including their workplace, school, transportation, and all public spaces and services. This act was later amended to include Title II and Title III, which extended the law to apply to state and local government operations, transportation and public accommodations in commercial buildings and areas. Digital assets, such as websites, applications and electronic kiosks, are also considered public accommodations and, under the ADA, must be accessible.

In recent years, there’s been an increasing number of lawsuits related to website accessibility. Companies and organizations across various industries have faced legal action for allegedly failing to ensure that their websites are fully navigable and usable by people with disabilities. As more aspects of our daily lives move online, it’s likely these types of lawsuits will continue to be filed, making it essential for organizations to make their digital tools and information accessible.

What is Section 508?

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires that people with disabilities be able to access programs and activities funded by federal agencies and federal employment. Part of that law, Section 508 focuses on electronic accessibility. It also established the Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards, which define the minimum requirements for ensuring that electronic and IT products and services purchased or developed by the federal government are accessible to people with disabilities, including those using assistive technology.

Accessing digital information and products by individuals with disabilities must be comparable to those without disabilities – unless making a comparable experience would pose an undue burden on the department or agency, according to the law. This also includes software and applications, kiosks and web browsers.

Want to know more about meeting Section 508 requirements? Download our free Section 508 Checklist.

What do these laws have in common

The ADA and Section 508 are similar in that they both seek to create equal access for people with disabilities, and both have aspects that require electronic and IT products and services to be accessible.

In addition, compliance with both these federal regulations can be achieved via the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which seek to ensure that all digital experiences are accessible, including browsers, devices, self-service kiosks, content, and other elements of the web browsing experience are relatively consistent. These guidelines also include guidance for web design and applications, web architecture, XML, and other backend digital elements. By meeting these guidelines, companies can also achieve compliance with both the ADA and Section 508.

How the ADA and Section 508 Differ

Generally speaking, the ADA is a federal law that offers a wide range of protections for people with disabilities throughout the country, including physical access to public and commercial spaces, job opportunities, educational access and more.

Section 508 refers only to electronic and IT products and services. Also, it only applies to companies that do business with the federal government or are subcontractors for a company that does business with the federal government.

It’s a little confusing, so here’s an easy way to know if Section 508 applies to you:

  • Does your company do business with a federal agency, or maybe will in the future?
  • Does anyone with whom your company does business also do business with the federal government?

If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then you will need to ensure your company is Section 508 compliant.

Just because you’re not planning to do business with the federal government doesn’t mean that meeting Section 508 requirements isn’t helpful. Later in this post, we’ll discuss why companies value gaining Section 508 compliance.

What Does This Mean for Your Business?

To ensure your company’s digital assets achieve ADA and Section 508 compliance, reviewing the WCAG guidelines is a good place to start. Next, conduct a digital asset audit of your company’s website, software, IT operations and other electronic tools, either through your IT department or by hiring a third-party auditing company. Both these steps are effective in ensuring not only your company is meeting federal standards for accessibility, but that your website and other electronic products and services can be used and enjoyed by all.

Because Section 508 deals specifically with organizations that work with the federal government, these organizations will submit a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template, or VPAT, which incorporates the WCAG standard, to demonstrate their compliance.

Even if your organization is not inclined to conduct business with the Federal government or one of its vendors, a VPAT is still a very useful resource. Many private businesses, nonprofits and NGOs use the VPAT as well to show they are “buying accessible” when selecting a vendor.

Getting Help Getting to Accessibility

Accessibility is not a one-and-done process, but requires continued monitoring and updates. If you’re working toward ADA compliance or are preparing a VPAT to meet federal requirements, working with experts can save your organization a lot of time and headaches.

Talk to one of our accessibility experts today about developing a long-term strategy for compliance and meeting both ADA and Section 508 requirements.

Categories: Accessibility Strategy, Legal, World of Accessibility