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General Web Accessibility


Section 508

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Why the Concern about Accessibility?

It's the law. The 1990's was a decade devoted to accessibility. Several landmark pieces of legislation were passed 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.

It's the business savvy thing to do. An accessible site tends to be more usable and better optimized for search engines than an inaccessible site. This helps people find and use your site more easily. More importantly, 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 people who use less popular web browsers, have slower Internet connections, use older computer hardware, access the web on their cell phone, or have a physical or mental disability. Accessible sites provide more people an opportunity to enjoy what you have to offer on the Web.

It's the right thing to do. Millions of people are classified as "disabled". 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, as sterotypes suggest. 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!) The Web 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", (as defined in the Clinger-Cohen Act, formerly named the Information Technology Management Reform Act). The Web has unique concerns regarding accessibility. 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 state level for numerous US states. States that receive money from the Assistive Technology Act of 1998 are required to comply with Section 508. (See sections I.B.3 and I.C.)


Before Section 508 troubled everyone's minds, there was the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). Since the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) cannot enforce their recommendations, many 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.