Section 508.

What is Section 508?

Section 508 is legislation for accessible electronic and information technologies. It applies to all U.S. Federal agencies when they develop, procure, purchase, and maintain such technology. The legislation is an example of pull legislation—the  federal government is a big purchaser of technology, so companies who want to sell to the government must make an effort to include accessibility in their product. This should hopefully increase the accessibility of products available to others as well. While the legislation specifically applies to federal agencies, state and local governments and other organizations may also require Section 508 compliance when they are procuring technology.

The current Section 508 standards are showing their age. The U.S. Access Board (an independent agency of the government devoted to accessibility for people with disabilities) has been undertaking a multi-year refresh of Section 508 with reports and drafts that have been published in 2008, 2010, and 2011. Recent rumors have been pointing to a notice of proposed rulemaking being published on February 18, 2015.

When published, there will probably be a 90-day public comment period.

As part of my work at the Trace Center, I have been working on the Section 508 standards during the refresh process: analyzing the provisions and suggesting changes and rationale. I was the main author of the Trace Center’s comments on the 2011 proposal. I plan to analyze the next version when it comes out (hopefully soon). I will post some of my thoughts and analysis of the proposed standards here on my blog.

About J. Bern Jordan

Bern is a Ph.D. candidate and researcher in accessibility, usability, user interface, and technology interested in extending usability to all people, including people with disabilities and those who are aging. He currently works at the Trace R&D Center in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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