This guide highlights laws, policies and other regulations requiring federal agencies ensure employees and members of the public with disabilities have access to information comparable to the access available to others.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to require federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities. The law 29 U.S.C § 794 (d) applies to all federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology. Under Section 508, agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information comparable to the access available to others.
The U.S. Access Board is responsible for developing Information and Communication Technology (ICT) accessibility standards to incorporate into regulations that govern federal procurement practices. On January 18, 2017, the Access Board issued a final rule that updated accessibility requirements covered by Section 508 and refreshed guidelines for telecommunications equipment subject to Section 255 of the Communications Act. The final rule went into effect on January 18, 2018.
The rule updated and reorganized the Section 508 Standards and Section 255 Guidelines in response to market trends and innovations in technology. The refresh also harmonized these requirements with other guidelines and standards both in the U.S. and abroad, including standards issued by the European Commission, and with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0), a globally recognized voluntary consensus standard for web content and ICT.
Section 508 Standards
- Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Final Standards and Guidelines (2017) - Read the Standards and Guidelines.
- About the Update of the Section 508 Standards and Section 255 Guidelines for Information and Communication Technology - High-level overview
- Revised Section 508 Standards Transition Guide - An overview of changes your agency needs to make to transition to the Revised 508 Standards.
Revised Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR)
Federal Acquisition Regulation: Section 508-Based Standards in Information and Communication Technology as published August 11, 2021, includes the following key parts, subparts and sections for requirements and acquisition professionals:
- FAR 39.2 - Information and Communication Technology - Primary accessibility acquisition requirements to ensure federal employees and members of the public have equal access to information.
- FAR 7.103(q) - Acquisition Plans, Agency-head responsibilities - Requires standards be included in requirements planning.
- FAR 7.105(5)(iv) - Contents of written acquisition plans - Specifies documentation of authorized exceptions and exemptions.
- FAR 10.001(a)(3)(ix) - Procedures - Requires agencies to assess the availability of ICT that meets all of the standards.
- FAR 11.002(f) - Policy - Requires, for any component or portion of the product, documentation of the needs of users with disabilities, applicable standards, and where accessibility standards cannot be met due to an exception or exemption.
- FAR 12.202(d) - Market research and description of agency need - Specifies that all accessibility standards be included in requirements document.
- 39.203 Applicability - Specifies requirements for General/em> procurement of ICT, Indefinite-quantity contracts, Task order or delivery order, and Commercial products and commercial services.
- Tabular Comparison of the Previous FAR text against the 2021 Update
It is important to understand Section 508 in the context of other laws related to federal disability policy. In addition to Section 508, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (PDF) has the following related sections:
- Section 501 - Prohibits federal employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities. It requires each federal agency to adopt the goal of having 12% of its workforce be people with disabilities and 2% of its workforce be people with targeted disabilities.
- Section 503 - Prohibits employment discrimination based on disability by federal contractors or subcontractors.
- Section 504 (PDF) - Prohibits federal agencies, programs, or activities from discriminating and requires reasonable accommodation for qualified individuals with disabilities.
- Section 505 - Contains provisions governing remedies and attorneys' fees under Section 501.
Related laws include:
- Section 255 of the Communications Act - Requires telecommunications products and services be accessible to people with disabilities.
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) - The first major legislative effort to secure an equal playing field for individuals with disabilities.
- Assistive Technology Act of 1998 - Establishes a grant program to provide federal funds to support state programs that address the assistive technology needs of individuals with disabilities.
- Help America Vote Act of 2002 - Mandates improvements to voting systems and voter access for the nation’s voting process.
- 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 - Requires advanced communications services and products be accessible to people with disabilities.
- 21st Century IDEA (Integrated Digital Experience Act) of 2018 - Requires all executive branch agencies to modernize their websites, digitize services and forms, and improve customer services.
- Executive Order on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce
- Executive Order On Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government
- Executive Order on Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government
Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Memos
- OMB M-23-22 - Delivering a Digital-First Public Experience (PDF)
- Strategic Plan for Improving Management of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 2013 (PDF)
- M-16-20 Category Management Policy 16-3: Improving the Acquisition and Management of Common Information Technology: Mobile Devices and Services (PDF)
- M-13-13 - Open Data Policy - Managing Information as an Asset (PDF)
- OMB Improving the Accessibility of Government Information (PDF) - July 2010
- Office of Federal Procurement Policy 508 Compliance
- 2011 Notes from Daniel I. Gordon, Federal Procurement Policy Administrator
- 2010 OMB Memorandum for the Chief Acquisition Officers and Chief Information Officers (DOC)
- 2007 OMB Memorandum for the Chief Acquisition Officers and Chief Information Officers (DOC)
- 2005 OMB Memorandum for the Chief Acquisition Officers and Chief Information Officers (DOC)
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
- EEOC Policy Guidance On Executive Order 13164: Establishing Procedures To Facilitate The Provision Of Reasonable Accommodation - October 2000
- Practical Advice for Drafting and Implementing Reasonable Accommodation Procedures Under Executive Order 13164 - July 2005
State and International
- State Policy - States' legislation requiring electronic and information technology accessibility
- International Harmonization - Other government-supported efforts around the world working on a "standards approach" to encuring ICT accessibility.
- Web Accessibility Laws & Policies
Agencies should periodically review and update their Sections 508, 501, and 504 policies. Your agency’s policies on how to implement each section of the Rehabilitation Act should be closely aligned to clarify responsibilities and determine how to respond to claims of discrimination on the basis of disability.
Your agency’s policies should include that your agency is obligated to:
- Make Information and Communication Technology (ICT) accessible to people with disabilities.
- Accommodate the needs of employees and program participants, while meeting the Revised Section 508 requirements.
Learn how to maintain your agency’s policies through the links below:
In addition to accessibility-related policies, other agency policies often require the development or use of specific ICT by the agency’s workforce. In order for an agency’s accessibility effort to be successful, employees and organizations must integrate accessibility into outcomes. In addition, other policies should be reviewed and updated to ensure that accessibility adequately addresses individual and organizational roles & responsibilities including:
- Example: Department of Homeland Security Section 508 Directive (DOC)
- Example: Veterans Administration Accessibility Policy (PDF)
- Example: SSA Internet Accessibility Policy (PDF)
- Example: Department of Justice Model Section 508 Complaint Process (DOC)
For information and examples on creating an accessibility statement in accordance with OMB requirements, see Developing a Website Accessibility Statement.
Reviewed/Updated: September 2023