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California Area Office logoCalifornia Area Office

Understanding Section 508

Image of Margo KerriganMargo Kerrigan, M.P.H., Area Director
Indian Health Service California Area Office

Rehabilitation Act Amendments, Section 508 Facts

Understanding Section 508

Purpose

Section 508 requires Federal departments and agencies that develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology to ensure that Federal employees and members of the public with disabilities have access to and use of information and data, comparable to that of the employees and members of the public without disabilities-unless it is an undue burden to do so. 

Who is Covered?
  • Federal departments and agencies including the U.S. Postal Service
  • Contractors providing services or products to Federal agencies must provide Section 508 compliant deliverables 

Exceptions include some military functions, products owned by contractors incidental to a contract, and "back-office" equipment.

What is Covered?
  • Electronic and information technology products procured, developed, maintained, or used by a Federal agency
  • Electronic and information technology includes products that store, process, transmit, convert, duplicate, or receive electronic information
  • Copiers, computers, fax machines, information kiosks, software, operating systems, websites and telecommunications products 

Federal agencies are not required to "retrofit" existing technologies.

What are the Technical Standards?

Section 508 standards are technical specifications and performance-based requirements which focus on the functional capabilities covered by technologies. The standards are organized into six sections: 

  • Software Applications and Operating Systems
  • Web-based Intranet and Internet Information and Applications
  • Telecommunications Products
  • Video and Multimedia Products
  • Self Contained, Closed Products
  • Desktop and Portable Computers 
What Do the Numbers Say?
  • Section 508 implementation is critical in the era of reliance on information technology.

  • By 1997 about 19 million Americans were using the Internet. That number tripled in one year, and then passed 100 million in 1999. In the first quarter of 2000, more than five million Americans joined the online worldroughly 55,000 new users each day.
  • Every 24 hours, the Web increases by more than 3.2 million new pages and more than 715,000 images.
  • The number of electronic mailboxes worldwide reached almost 570 million in 1999. In 1998 the U.S. Postal Service delivered 101 billion pieces of paper mail; estimated e-mails transmitted that year range as high as four trillion.
  • About 54 million Americans have some level of disability. 

Section 508 Technical Assistance

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