An update to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act that officially goes into effect next week (January 18) will revise and refresh the federal sector’s standards for accessible electronic and information technology in order to keep the act current with modern technologies.
The update will, among other things, revise the accessibility standards that communication and information technology must meet when purchased or developed by the federal government, and bring federal requirements more closely in line with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG), the widely accepted standard for online content accessibility. The update also refreshes guidelines for telecommunications equipment subject to Section 255 of the Communications Act.
An amendment to the Rehabilitation Act in 1998, Section 508 requires federal agencies, contractors, and employers to make electronic and information technology accessible to individuals with disabilities. The law applies to all federal agencies when they develop, acquire, maintain, or use electronic and information technology, from office PCs to agency homepages.
Though Section 508 does not explicitly go beyond federal agencies, many states passed laws to extend its reach to organizations — such as colleges, universities, and research facilities — that receive federal funding.
The amendment includes specific language on accessible video and multimedia products, requiring that all training and informational videos and multimedia productions that support the agency’s mission, regardless of format, that contain speech, visual, or audio information necessary for the comprehension of the content, need to be open or closed captioned.
This captioning requirement means that simply posting a transcript next to a video is not acceptable. If the video contains speech that must be understood, it must be captioned, with captions appearing in time with the speech.
SECTION 508 REFRESH
Section 508’s “refresh” is designed to address the myriad changes in technology over the nearly two decades since 508 was enacted, and to synchronize the section’s requirements with those of WCAG 2.0. WCAG 2.0 defines three levels of accessibility: A (the minimum level of conformance), AA (more accessible), and AAA (highly accessible), and guidelines provide specific criteria to define conformance at each of these levels.
For those in the deaf and hard-of-hearing and blind and low-vision communities, government agencies will need to meet a variety of conformance and success criteria, including:
All non-text content presented to the user must have a text alternative that serves the equivalent purpose, such as large print, braille, or symbols or simpler language, except for these situations.
Captions are provided for all prerecorded audio content in synchronized media, except when the media is a media alternative for text and is clearly labeled as such.
For prerecorded audio-only and prerecorded video-only media, the following are true, except when the audio or video is a media alternative for text and is clearly labeled as such:
- Prerecorded audio-only: An alternative for time-based media is provided that presents equivalent information for prerecorded audio-only content.
- Prerecorded video-only: Either an alternative for time-based media or an audio track is provided that presents equivalent information for prerecorded video-only content.
- Captions are provided for all live audio content in synchronized media.
- Audio description is provided for all prerecorded video content in synchronized media.
For more information on Section 508, as well as television and IP/Web regulations, click here.