The Ultimate Section 508 Refresh Checklist
Updated: June 3, 2019
On January 18, 2017, the U.S. Access Board released a comprehensive update to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act to address the ever-changing and universal nature of modern technology.
The Section 508 refresh was a monumental step towards greater accessibility in the United States.
The revised Section 508 now legally requires compliance with WCAG 2.0 standards as applied to the function of the technology rather than product types, such as computer, mobile, or tablet.
Why update Section 508 standards?
The revised sections 508 and 255 now both legally require compliance with WCAG 2.0 standards as applied to the function of the technology rather than product types, such as computer, mobile, or tablet.
The overarching goal of the refresh is to harmonize standards across different industries and governments in the United States, while affirming global accessibility standards.
The revised section 508 took effect March 21, 2017. The compliance date is January 18, 2018.
To whom does Section 508 apply?
As a federal anti-discrimination act, Section 508 applies to federal agencies and departments.
While Section 508 technically applies only to federal organizations, it is extended to other types of organizations through state laws, institutional laws, and grant requirements
For example, many states have enacted their own “mini 508” laws that apply the following requirements. In addition, universities (including private universities) that receive funding through grants may be required to comply with Section 508, as well.
The revised section 508 and section 255 appear on the Code of Federal Regulation and Federal Register as appendices.
Section 508 and section 255 are split into appendix A and B, respectively. Appendix A and B include two chapters, application and scoping, which correspond to how the law should be applied. Appendix C is known as the common section, which combines the overlapping areas of both sections: Functional performance, hardware, software, support documentation, and referenced standards.
Key changes and issues from the original 508
There are four key changes to the new Section 508:
- Broad application of WCAG 2.0
- New “Safe Harbor” provision for legacy ICT
- Functional Performance Criteria (FPC)
- ICT with closed functionality
Broad application of WCAG 2.0
Web and covered non-web content must comply with WCAG 2.0 Level A and Level AA success criteria.
To understand the specific WCAG 2.0 standard that coordinates with the function, you must first find the parent provision under Appendix A or B, Chapter E2 or C2.
Under the provision, you will find where to go in the Code of Federal Regulation, then learn which WCAG conformance applies.
New “Safe Harbor” provision for legacy ICT
The “Safe Harbor” provision says, any information and communication technology (ICT) that meets the 2000 section 508 standards is grandfathered until any change or modification to the user interface has been made to it. If a change occurs, such as the contrast of a document, then the new ICT must comply with the new 508 standards.
Functional Performance Criteria (FPC)
To harmonize with the European Union standards, the Functional Performance Criteria (FPC) was added. The FPC addresses cognitive accessibility, but should only be used when chapter 4 or 5, hardware or software, do not address the function.
ICT with closed functionality
When a product has a closed functionality, this means some assistive technologies are not allowed because they lack a “user agent.” To combat this obstacle, additional measures need to be added to make content accessible on such devices.
The provision for closed functionality can be found under 402 of Section 508. It underlines what must comply and what are exceptions.
Why use WCAG 2.0 for the revised section 508?
WCAG 2.0 was included in the revised section 508 to help universalize and standardize accessibility initiatives in the United States.
Lawmakers found the old section 508 did not harmonize with international standards. The law makers saw the impact and influence it had in Canada and the European Union, and realized it could have a positive impact in the United States as well.
One thing that differs from our neighboring countries though, is the broad application of WCAG to web and non-web content, ultimately helping to create tighter and more complete legislation.
In addition, WCAG 2.0 helped address the gaps in section 508, such as low contrast text, site navigation, fixed size text and meaningful sequence. Unlike WCAG 2.0, the older version of section 508 was ambiguous and untestable.
What does a 508 Refresh mean for businesses and people with disabilities?
As many of us know in the world of electronic information technology (EIT) accessibility, the law is often much older than the technology it is meant to regulate.
Consequentially, people with disabilities that prevent them from using many conventional websites, applications, and other online services have been waiting years for federal and state regulations to require that organizations make their digital content accessible. At the same time, public and private entities have been eagerly awaiting more direct guidelines from the government regarding web accessibility.
As a handful of lawsuits have revealed, ambiguity surrounding what content needs to be accessible has caused a lot of tension between users with disabilities and certain organizations like digital video providers and universities.
Additionally, businesses will benefit from more comprehensive and language that points out what gaps will need to be filled (like webpage screen-reader compatibility and closed captioning for videos) to properly comply with accessibility law.
Closed Captioning and Audio Description Requirements Under the Section 508 Refresh
The Section 508 refresh assigns WCAG 2.0 success criterion to each existing section of the 508 Standards. These standards modernize the requirements for closed captioning and audio description as follows:
Prerecorded audio-only or video only:
- Success criterion 1.2.1
- WCAG 2.0 Level A
- 508 section 1194.22(a)
- Text transcript is provided for audio-only content
- Text or audio description is provided for video-only content
- Success criterion 1.2.2
- WCAG 2.0 Level A
- 508 section 1194.22(b) and .24(c)
- Synchronized captions are provided for non-live, Web-based video (YouTube videos, etc.)
Audio Description (prerecorded):
- Success criterion 1.2.3
- WCAG 2.0 Level AA
- 508 section 1194.22(b) and .24(d)
- Audio descriptions are provided for all video content
- Success criterion 1.2.4
- WCAG 2.0 Level AA
- 508 section 1194.22(b) and .24(c)
- Synchronized captions are provided for all live multimedia that contain audio
The refresh also revises the requirements for user controls for captions and audio description to make user controls “available when captions and audio descriptions can be enabled through system-wide platform settings. […] Where operable parts are provided for volume control, ICT shall also provide operable parts for caption selection. […] Where ICT provides operable parts for program selection, it shall also provide operable parts for the selection of audio description.”
Finally, it requires that for video with synchronized audio, closed caption processing technology must be provided that conforms to 413.1.1 (decoding and display of closed captions) or 413.1.2 (pass-through of closed caption data).
The overarching goal of the refresh is to harmonize standards across different industries and governments in the United States while affirming global accessibility standards.
The deadline to meet the new Section 508 requirements is January 18, 2018.
With the deadline quickly approaching, it’s important that your organization is on top of the requirements.
Depending on the component of the ICT, certain requirements must be met to ensure they comply with the law.
The following downloadable checklist includes:
- What is ICT?
- An exceptions checklist
- A comprehensive checklist on all requirements that must be met for each ICT category
Don’t wait until the last minute to get your ICT updated to the new standards! Click the link below to get started with your Section 508 checklist.
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