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General Web Accessibility


Section 508

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Why the Concern about Accessibility?

Accessibility is the law. Several landmark pieces of legislation were passed during the 1990's that enforce the concept of "access for everyone", including access to information technology. These included the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and the Rehabilitation Act Amendments (Section 508) of 1998.

Accessibility is the business savvy thing to do. An accessible website tends to be more usable and better optimized for search engines than an inaccessible site. This helps people to find and use your site more easily. An inaccessible site is like a locked door on your web store. You might be turning away more potential customers than you think. Accessible sites benefit not only people with disabilities, but also people who use less common web browsers, have slower Internet connections, use older computer hardware, or access the web on their cell phone. Accessible sites provide more people an opportunity to enjoy what you have to offer on the Web.

Accessibility is the right thing to do. There are millions of people with disabilities. Types of disabilities include: visual, cognitive, mobility, speech, and hearing. People may possess one disability or a combination of disabilties, all with different degrees of severity. Disability comes in many forms, not all of which are hereditary, long term, or severe. Some can be caused by accidents. Some can be caused by aging. Some can be temporary, such as misplacing your reading glasses. (Just try reading 8 point size font without them!) Technology can and should be a great enabler for all people, regardless of ability.

Not all people are born "disabled", but anyone can become disabled, even temporarily.

Section 508

In 1998, amendments were passed to U.S. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974. They enforced universal access to "electronic and information technology". Although Section 508 does not apply exclusively to the Web, it does address the Web specifically in Subpart B, § 1194.22.

There is much confusion as to whom Section 508 applies. Generally, it applies to the Federal government and items procured by the Federal government (with a few exemptions). However, many people fail to realize that these requirements may also apply to government at the US state level.


Before Section 508, there was the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). Since the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) cannot enforce their recommendations, some people ignore their useful and valuable advice. Many Section 508 requirements overlap with W3C's guidelines. Compliance with both standards will make your website more accessible and more usable for everyone.

What should I do?

Start implementing accessible design today! There are many resources available to learn more about it. Links to some are provided on this page. In the U.S., your state's ADA Coordinator may also provide advice and information. The sooner you start learning and doing, the more everyone will benefit... including you.