Federal Law and Policy on ICT Accessibility
Over the past 50 years, the federal government has passed a variety of statutes, regulations, and policies to advance ICT accessibility. In tandem with organizational shifts and initiatives to support PWD and ICT accessibility, key legislative and executive actions have emerged to advance digital equity across the federal government:
The foundational law for ICT accessibility, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended in 1986, mandates that federal agencies make their ICT accessible to PWD. Under this statute, federal agencies must ensure the ICT they develop, procure, maintain, and use is accessible to PWD, including disabled federal employees and members of the public.
The ICT Standards and Guidelines, also called the Revised 508 Standards, establish the technical specifications that implement Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended. The ICT Standards and Guidelines describe how to ensure that Section 508-covered hardware, software, and electronic content – including web and non-web content – fully conform to these technical specifications.4
The 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (PDF) mandates that federal agencies modernize their public websites and digital services to improve the digital experience of federal customers. The law identifies compliance with Section 508 as a requirement for new and redesigned public-facing websites and digital services provided by federal agencies, and it grants CIOs the authority to seek agency funding to support implementation of the law. The OMB memorandum on Delivering a Digital-First Public Experience (M-23-22) provides guidance to agencies on how to design and deliver websites and digital services to the public, as well as assistance to agencies as they continue to implement the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act. It directs agencies to design and deliver an accessible, high-quality and integrated digital experience that is simple, seamless and secure across agencies for all users.
The Executive Order (EO) on “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce” directs federal agencies to strengthen the federal workforce through improvements to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA). The order called for a governmentwide DEIA strategic plan (PDF) (issued in November 2021), and charges each agency to analyze barriers to employment opportunities and develop DEIA strategic plans to address these barriers.
The EO on “Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government” directs federal agencies to center customer experience (CX) to improve the design and delivery of government services. To achieve this transformation, the EO emphasizes that government services must be accessible, and calls for a range of agency-level actions toward this end.
The OMB “Strategic Plan for Improving Management of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (PDF)” provides an approach to help federal agencies successfully manage Section 508 Programs. The approach is organized according to three principles and associated agency actions: increase transparency, strengthen accountability, and improve collaboration. Notably, to strengthen accountability, the plan called for federal agencies to assess their Section 508 Programs and submit their assessment data to GSA.5
- Throughout this document, conformant ICT refers to ICT that meets the technical specifications required in the ICT Standards and Guidelines. ↩
- While only the 24 Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Act agencies were required to submit Section 508 compliance data pursuant the “Strategic Plan for Improving Management of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act,” they are responsible for the majority of federal ICT. Some federal agencies not subject to the CFO Act voluntarily submitted data. ↩
Reviewed/Updated: December 2023