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Accessibility Laws for United States Federal Government Agencies

  • Street view of the front of the United States Environmental Protection Agency building in Washington, D.C.

    There are two major civil rights laws that specifically protect the rights of people with disabilities in the United States: The Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    For a full explanation of both laws, visit ADA.gov.

    Here is an overview of how they apply to the accessibility of technology used by agencies of the Federal government itself:

    The Rehabilitaion Act

    The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and implicates programs conducted by Federal agencies, programs receiving Federal financial assistance, Federal employment, and the employment practices of Federal contractors.

    This law has the most direct impact on federal agencies when it comes to protecting the rights of people with disabilities.

    Section 504

    Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits federal government entities from discriminating against individuals on the basis of disability. It was originally the last line of the Rehabilitation Act but did not have any implementing rules. Four years later, in 1977, Section 504 regulations were signed, in essence affording individuals with disabilities the same rights as groups protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    According to Section 504 “no qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall be excluded from, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under” any program or activity that either receives Federal financial assistance, is conducted by any Executive agency, or the United States Postal Service.

    This section of the law requires all federal entities — and organizations that receive federal funding — to make accommodations for equal access. This means, for example, that closed captioning must be provided on any video content for users who are deaf or hard of hearing.

    Section 508

    Section 508 establishes requirements for electronic and information technology developed, maintained, procured, or used by the Federal government. Federal electronic and information technology must be made accessible to people with disabilities, including employees and members of the public.

    This section of the law requires that accessible information technology – a system that can be operated in a variety of ways and does not rely on a single sense or ability of the user – be provided to disabled employees and members of the public. Similarly, it ensures accessibility to web content such as video, text-based documents, and important visual information. For example, if a video is published on a federal agency’s website, it must be made accessible to blind and visually impaired users with an accommodation such as audio description.

    The Americans with Disabilities Act

    The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in 1990 and guarantee equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation.

    In 2008, the ADA Amendment Act broadened the scope of how disability is legally defined to include psychological, emotional, and physiological conditions. While a disability may limit an individual’s capacity, it is the responsibility of both public and private entities to provide equal access through accommodations suiting the disabled individual’s needs.

    Title I: Employment

    Title I of the ADA prohibits employers of more than 15 people, including government agencies, from discriminating against qualified individuals on the basis of a disability.

    This includes ensuring that technologies used in recruitment, hiring, promotions, training (e.g. adding captions to training videos), payroll, social activities, and other privileges of employment are made accessible.

    Title IV: Telecommunications Relay Services

    Title IV addresses telephone and television access for people with hearing and speech disabilities and requires closed captioning of any Federally funded public service announcements, which can include those of Federal agencies.


    Is your agency looking for a way to make your video content accessible to people with disabilities? Visit our Government captioning page via the link below:

    Video Captioning Solutions for Government Agencies

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