GSA Government-wide Section 508 Accessibility Program

Accessibility News: The Section 508 Update

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 11:10 -- kapil.bulchandani

In January 2017, the U.S. Access Board published a final rule updating accessibility requirements for information and communication technology (ICT) covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The Rehabilitation Act is a federal law which requires programs and activities funded by federal agencies to be accessible to people with disabilities, including federal employees and members of the public. Section 508 covers ICT developed, procured, maintained, or used by federal agencies.

The goals of the Revised 508 Standards include:

  • Enhancing accessibility to ICT for people with disabilities;
  • Making the requirements easier to understand and follow;
  • Updating the requirements to stay abreast of the ever-changing nature of the technologies covered; and
  • Harmonizing the requirements with other standards in the U.S. and abroad.

Federal agencies and contractors must comply with the Revised 508 Standards beginning on January 18, 2018. The Original 508 Standards remain in place until then.

Major Changes

Major changes in the Revised 508 Standards include:

  • Focus on Functionality - Organizes by functionality instead of product type, to keep pace with advances in technology.
  • Industry Alignment - Incorporates Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international community that creates web standards. Clarifies applicability to websites, electronic documents and software.
  • Content Accessibility - Requires all public-facing official agency business content, as well as specific categories of non-public-facing content that is official agency business, to be accessible.
  • Synchronized Tools and Tech - Clarifies that software and operating systems must interoperate with assistive technology.
  • Expanded Marketplace - Incorporates by reference selected international standards like WCAG 2.0, and harmonizes with European Commission ICT Standards (EN 301 549), to create a larger marketplace of accessibility solutions.

Procurement Policy

The Rehabilitation Act gives the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council (FAR Council) and federal agencies up to six months to incorporate the updated 508 standards into their acquisition procurement policies. The FAR Council will establish a date by which new and existing procurements must meet the updated 508 standards.

Supporting Organizations

The U.S. Access Board is an independent federal agency that promotes equality for people with disabilities through accessible design and development of guidelines and standards. GSA’s Office of Government-wide Policy (OGP) also helps federal agencies implement information and communication technology policies and programs. Working together, the Access Board and GSA provide technical assistance to federal agencies concerning the original and Revised 508 Standards.

Helpful Links

  • Section 508 Standards Refresh Toolkit - Central hub for implementation guidance to help federal agencies transition to the Revised 508 Standards; guidance is being developed by the CIO Council’s Accessibility Community of Practice (ACoP), the Access Board, and GSA.
  • Federal Agency Section 508 Coordinators - Work with your 508 Coordinator to transition to the Revised 508 Standards and ensure your work is accessible.

Accessibility Requirements Tool

GSA is developing the Accessibility Requirements Tool (ART), (formerly known as the Buy Accessible Wizard), to assist agencies with accessible procurements effective after January 2018. ART helps federal government acquisition officials determine:

  • If Section 508 applies to a particular product or service;
  • What specific Section 508 standards apply for particular ICT products and services; and
  • How to document specific ICT accessibility requirements and Section 508 compliance.

Next Steps

Learn more about the changes in the Revised 508 Standards.

Contact the Government-wide Accessibility Team at section.508@gsa.gov with questions.