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Compliance or Conformance?

You’ve likely heard the terms “compliance” and “conformance” when people talk about IT accessibility. These words are often used interchangeably (and incorrectly) in relation to Section 508 law and standards and it’s easy to get them confused.

To set the record straight, we’ve defined what both words mean, in terms of IT accessibility.

  • Federal agencies must comply with the Section 508 law; and
  • IT products and services purchased or used by federal agencies need to conform to the Revised 508 Standards.


Under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (29 U.S.C. § 794 d), all federal agencies must ensure that any Information and Communication Technology (ICT) they “develop, procure, maintain or use” is accessible. Agencies need to provide disabled employees and members of the public access to information comparable to the access available to others.


Conformance means providing ICT that meets the applicable parts of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Final Standards and Guidelines (known as the Revised 508 Standards).

Developed by the U.S. Access Board, the Revised 508 Standards apply to all ICT products and services procured, developed, or used by the federal government (specifically, executive branch agencies and U.S. Postal Service). This can include computer hardware, software, websites, telecommunications, video, multimedia, and more.

Practical Application

How can an improved understanding of these terms improve IT accessibility at your agency? Conformance with standards is required for legal compliance, so a good strategy is to tightly integrate standards conformance into the procurement and development processes at your agency.

Procurement - Specifically address accessibility needs in procurement requirements documentation when making any purchase involving ICT. This will help vendors understand your accessibility requirements, so they can offer IT products and services that conform to the Revised 508 Standards. Learn more about accessible procurement.

Development - When developing IT systems in-house, determine and document accessibility requirements during initial project planning, and test for and address IT accessibility throughout development, to ensure your systems conform to the Revised 508 Standards. Learn more about accessible development.

With good business processes in place to address conformance to accessibility standards up-front, you’ll help your agency stay in compliance with Section 508 law.

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