Questions and Answers about
In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation
Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. 794d). Section 508 of these amendments requires
that all Federal agencies make their electronic information accessible
to people with disabilities. Below are some of the most frequently
asked questions about Section 508 and what it means for Congress
and the Legislative Branch.
Q. What is “Section 508"? What does
A. Section 508 is one part of the changes made
to the Rehabilitation Act when it was amended in 1998. Section 508
requires that the full range of electronic and information technologies
give employees and members of the public who are disabled access
to information in a way that is comparable to access available to
others. Section 508 was enacted to eliminate barriers in information
technology and make available new opportunities for people with
Q. I thought the Americans with Disabilities
Act (ADA) already required that electronic information be accessible
to people with disabilities. How does Section 508 differ from the
requirements of the ADA?
A. The ADA does already require that the Federal
government make electronic information available to the disabled.
Section 508, however, goes a step further than the ADA. The ADA
only mandates that electronic information be made available in an
alternative format (such as in paper form). Section 508 requires
that individuals with disabilities be able to access information
in a way that is comparable to access available to others.
Q. What kind of electronic
information does Section 508 apply to?
A. Section 508 applies to the full range of electronic
and information technologies, including software, computing, presentation,
and storage mediums.
Q. Does Section 508 apply to web sites? Are dramatic
changes needed to make a web site compliant with Section 508?
A. Section 508 does apply to the internet and
web sites. Most changes required by Section 508 are relatively simple
to implement and do not detract from the overall web site design
or its experience by unimpaired viewers, but have a dramatic impact
on accessibility and ease of use for the disabled.
Q. How can web sites be made accessible to the
sight impaired when almost everything is visual? Does Section 508
prohibit the use of graphics and photos on web sites?
A. No, compliance with Section 508 does not prohibit
images or certain types of format styles on web sites. Instead,
it only requires that these elements be accessible in an alternative
manner. For example, to accommodate the blind or visually impaired,
labels and descriptors should be applied to the code for pictures
and graphs so that they can be “read” by electronic
screen readers and turned into audible information or data for refreshable
Braille displays. While these labels cannot provide an actual image
to the visually impaired, they help describe the element so that
its context can be conveyed.
Q. Does Congress have to comply with Section
A. Section 508 currently only applies to Executive
Branch departments and agencies of the Federal government. Compliance
with Section 508 is currently only voluntary for the Legislative
Branch and the private sector.
Q. Does this mean that no Congressional web sites
are fully accessible to the disabled according to Section 508 standards?
A. No, great strides have been made in implementing
Section 508 standards in the Legislative Branch even though compliance
is only voluntary. Many web sites are now accessible and in compliance
with Section 508, and other sites are being modified to conform
with the standards. There are, however, still Legislative Branch
web sites that lack the basic features needed to adequately accommodate
users who are disabled.
Q. Does the Office of Compliance encourage voluntary
compliance with Section 508?
A. Yes, although Section 508 does not currently
apply to Congress, the Office of Compliance encourages all Legislative
Branch entities to follow its standards, especially in regard to
web sites. Maintaining a web site that is Section 508 compliant
will ensure that all constituents and members of the public have
easy access to legislative information posted online.
Q. How can I find out more about Section 508
and its standards?
A. Standards for the implementation of
Section 508 have been created by the Access Board, an independent
Federal agency devoted to accessibility for people with disabilities.
The Access Board’s web site, www.access-board.gov,
has extensive information about Section 508 and its standards.