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How Section 508 Standards Benefit PWD: Striving to Create a Culture of Disability Inclusion

Nearly half of the most popular federal websites (48%) failed a standard accessibility test on at least one of their three most frequently visited pages, according to a recent Information Technology and Innovation Foundation study.1 While Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires federal Information and Communication Technology (ICT) be accessible, inaccessible ICT continues to prevent federal employees from doing their jobs and customers with disabilities from accessing government services.2

The benefits of accessible ICT for organizations have been widely documented.3 Implementing the federal ICT accessibility standards, called Revised Section 508 Standards, improves technology usability for all users, legal compliance, cost effectiveness, productivity, and public credibility.4,5 One study showed that companies identified as disability inclusion champions reported 28% higher revenue.6

But exactly how does accessible technology benefit people with disabilities? When people with disabilities have equitable access to digital technologies, they benefit in many ways. Section 508 standards not only provide people with disabilities with equitable access to job-critical functions facilitated by government technologies, the standards also ensure federal agencies have the tools to enhance their IT accessibility policies and conduct more effective testing for 508 conformance.

ICT, made accessible through thoughtful design, development, and integration with assistive technologies, enables people with disabilities to fully participate and engage productively in their work, collaborate with their colleagues, and contribute to innovation. Therefore we must have enforcement of the Section 508 standards to ensure a culture of inclusion.

1Johnson, A., & Castro, D. (2022). Improving Accessibility of Federal Government Websites. ITIF.
2 Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C.§ 794d (1998).
3Crawford, P. B. P. (2017, May 9). Benefits of Accessible Design.
4Update Agency Accessibility Policies (2017).
5 ICT Standards and Guidelines, 36 C.F.R. § 1194 (2017).
6 Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage. (2018). Accenture.

Creating a Culture of Disability Inclusion

The Federal Government can create a culture of diversity by ensuring accountability and responsibility of leaders and employees, continue to train diversity initiatives and with respect to digital accessibility specifically, by good IT governance. Agencies should also integrate the values of inclusion and equity into talent development, hiring procedures, recruitment processes, HR compliance measures, workforce planning efforts, and engagement strategies. When ICT accessibility is a priority for disability inclusion, agencies create diverse and innovative cultures in which people with disabilities benefit from equitable access to professional advancement opportunities, streamlined accommodations processes, collaborative tools, and more. One study showed diversity leads to innovation and growth, reporting 19% more revenue produced by diverse teams.7 Results show diverse companies are more capable of meeting customer needs because of their varying perspectives.

ICT accessibility helps people with disabilities engage fully in their jobs, connecting them with tools that enable collaboration and productivity. ICT also helps this group discover job opportunities and apply and interview for those jobs. This helps everyone because federal agencies no longer risk missing out on top talent who can contribute meaningfully to their missions. Disability inclusion and ICT standards help set up people with disabilities for success in their roles. The opposite happens when onboarding and training efforts do not meet ICT accessibility standards and accommodation requests are not digitally accessible: people with disabilities don’t have access to the important resources necessary to do their jobs effectively.

7 How Diverse Leadership Teams Boost Innovation. (2018). Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

How People With Disabilities Experience the Benefits of Implementing Section 508 Standards 

Creating a culture that focuses on disability inclusion and equity, including the prioritization of ICT accessibility standards, also improves participation, promotion rates, and retention for people with disabilities.8 While the overall participation rate has increased since 2014, people with disabilities are proportionately less likely to be in federal leadership positions. People with disabilities are also more likely to separate from federal employment than people without disabilities.9 About 39% of people with disabilities hired between 2011 and 2017 stayed less than a year.10 Without disability inclusion and adherence to ICT accessibility standards, people with disabilities cannot perform their best and advance into leadership positions, which often leads to them leaving their organizations and those organizations losing their ROI in talent.

When Section 508 standards are implemented, people with disabilities have a more positive experience with the accommodations process, resulting in improved morale and better interactions with co-workers.11 Employers experience increased employee retention, productivity, and attendance. Nevertheless, agencies reported having processes in place for receiving reasonable accommodations requests, but only the Social Security Administration reported having procedures for obtaining feedback from employees after an accommodation is provided.12 Additionally, the most common complaint in the workplace from people with disabilities continues to be access to accommodations and harassment.13

8 How Diverse Leadership Teams Boost Innovation. (2018). Boston Consulting Group (BCG).
9 The EEO Status of Workers with Disabilities in the Federal Sector. (n.d.-b). US EEOC.
10Disability Employment: Hiring Has Increased but Actions Needed to Assess Retention, Training, and Reasonable Accommodation Efforts. (n.d.). U.S. GAO.
11Costs and Benefits of Accommodation. (2023)
12 Disability Employment: Hiring Has Increased but Actions Needed to Assess Retention, Training, and Reasonable Accommodation Efforts. (2020). U.S. GAO.
13 The EEO Status of Workers with Disabilities in the Federal Sector. (2018). US EEOC. .

How People With Disabilities Experience the Benefits of Implementing Section 508 Standards 

People with disabilities are vitally important to the federal workforce, yet continue to face barriers in their employment. Many federal agencies have committed to improving their implementation of Section 508 standards. However, many agencies still need to advance IT accessibility maturity to ensure people with disabilities have access to the tools and services needed to perform their jobs, professionally advance, pursue employment opportunities, and feel a sense of belonging in a culture committed to disability inclusion.

Whether you are an individual contributor or a leader in your agency, you have an opportunity to increase awareness of the challenges people with disabilities face, encourage your agency to review its conformance to Section 508 standards, and act as an ally to people with disabilities in your organization. If you are an acquisition professional, consider accessibility from the beginning of any agency purchase. If you are a developer, create technology that conforms to Section 508 standards. If you are a designer, consider universal design principles and methodologies to help create products that are accessible for all users. If you are a tester, include people with disabilities in usability testing. If you are a content creator, ensure content on your agency website meets Section 508 standards. Every person has the power to effect cultural change and hold agencies responsible to their missions of promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the federal workforce.14

14 Executive Order on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce (2021).The White House.

Reviewed/Updated: August 2023

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