Q&A: Complying with the Section 508 & Section 255 Refresh
Updated: January 4, 2018
On January 18, 2017, the U.S. Access Board released a comprehensive refresh of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 255 of the Communication Act. This much anticipated refresh recognizes the universal and ever changing nature of modern technology, aiming to create a more unified global web.
Read the Q&A below or watch the webinar titled, Complying with the Section 508 & Section 255 Refresh with Bruce Bailey & Timothy Creagan from the U.S. Access Board, for an in-depth look into the new standards and requirements.
How does this refresh apply for a local governmental agency receiving funding from HUD? Can you point out the specific language in the bill if so?
TIMOTHY CREAGAN: What I would do is I would refer you specifically to chapter 1, 508, where it talks about purpose and application E101, and E102.1, respectively.
It says, “compliance with these standards is mandatory for federal agencies subject to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as amended, 29 USC 794(d). So right there, local, state agency, no, this does not apply to them.
As I said before, you’re going to be looking to the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title II, state and local governments, which is going to be governing your programmatic activity. And as I said before, the Department of Justice has given advice. And on its ADA website there is actually a bulletin for making state and local government websites accessible. And in that bulletin, it specifically says use 508 standards.
If a public university receives federal funds, do they need to comply with Section 508?
TIMOTHY CREAGAN: Section 508 on its face only applies to federal agencies when they procure, use, develop, or maintain information or communications technology. When we updated the 508 standards, none of the application changed. So therefore, if you’re not a federal agency, Section 504 talks about receiving federal funds.
So the question is, if I receive federal funds, what do I have to do to make my website successful? So the best answer is to go to your funding source, who may be a federal agency, and say, what do you want us to do?
As an example, some grantees under Medicaid/Medicare, when they enter into a contractual relationship with Medicaid/Medicare to receive federal funds, as part of that deliverable they’re producing online web content. As part of their contract, Medicaid/Medicare may require them to produce content that is conformant with the Section 508 standards. But again, that’s something you have to ask your funding source– whether or not you’re supposed to apply the 508 technical standards to yourself.
Similarly with education. 508 does not apply to public universities on its face. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title II for state and local governments and for public universities, and Title III for places of public accommodation and private universities, has said that the programmatic activity should be effectively communicated.
Now, the Department of Justice, which is responsible for enforcing Title II and Title III of the ADA, has given technical assistance, which is posted on their website www.ada.gov, which has indicated that state and local governments should use the 508 standards at the present time for making accessible contact. So our best recommendation is that you should consult with the Department of Justice as to what the requirements are.
As a best practice, it’s probably a good idea to use the 508 standards, but it’s not mandated at this point. However, you will notice that if you look at various rulings that have come down, even as recently as this week with the Winn-Dixie case, the rulings have indicated that web accessibility is a very important concern, and it’s something that is going to be required.
It may very well be that as a best practice you want to follow the Section 508 standards, or maybe you only adhere to the WCAG web content accessibility guidelines. Again, this is something you should consult with either DOJ or with your agency’s funding source.
Which guidelines apply to non-web content like PDFs or Word docs?
BRUCE BAILEY: The E205.2 citation is to WCAG 2.0, and then within there is an exception for things that are non-web documents. If it’s on a public-facing web site, according to WCAG 2.0, it’s web content, so you apply all of WCAG 2.0 AA. It gets a little bit odd in that if it’s an internal document shared by email, it’s the same PDF, it goes out by email, the sets of web pages requirements don’t apply. If that same PDF attachments are on the web, though, they do.
But odds are they’re not applicable anyway because it’s a standalone PDF and not part of a set of web pages. So I may have made that more complicated than it needs to be. But pretty much if it’s covered, you just use WCAG 2.0 AA. It works fine for PDFs and Word documents and just about anything you’ll find posted on a website.
TIMOTHY CREAGAN: As a parenthetical, there’s a lot of good technical assistance on the Section 508 .gov page. It’s www.section508.gov. There’s a link to best practices, and there’s examples of how to make different types of document formats successful– Word, PDF, and Excel.
BRUCE BAILEY: In the W3C resources, they include PDF techniques right along with ARIA techniques or CSS techniques or HTML techniques. There’s lots there for PDF– not so much for Word, but PDFs are there. And as Tim mentioned, the section508.gov site has some materials for Word and Excel and PowerPoint.
How will WCAG 2.1 and future versions of WCAG affect the 508 refresh?
BRUCE BAILEY: It doesn’t affect 508 at all. The 508 citation is to the date certain version of WCAG 2.0, December 11, 2008. [WCAG 2.1 and WCAG 3.0] won’t be requirements under 508 until there’s another rulemaking. So you’re talking four, five, six years out. We’re not in any hurry.
One of the things I always try to remember to start out with is that what you have to do for accessibility or what you can do for accessibility doesn’t change just because the standards and our work has been updated. All our work is doing is kind of codifying the minimum set of best practices.
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