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Clarification of Section 508

Clarification of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

(29 U.S.C. Section 794d) Complaint Processing

Comparable Access for Individuals with Disabilities to Indian Health Service Information and Electronic Technology:

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 [1]

Q. What does the law require?

A: Section 508 requires all Federal agencies to make electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by the agencies accessible to Federal employees and members of the public with disabilities, unless to do so would impose an undue burden. Section 508 covers all types of electronic and information technology in the Federal sector. Section 508 does allow for some exceptions, such as for national security systems.

Federal agencies must be in compliance with standards issued by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (“Access Board”). The Access Board issued these standards on December 21, 2000. The standards became effective on June 21, 2001, the date for agency compliance. [2]

Q. Who may file a complaint under the law?

A: The law authorizes individuals with disabilities to file complaints with any agency alleged to be in noncompliance with section 508 with respect to electronic and information technology procured on or after June 21, 2001.

Q. To whom do the law's requirements apply?

A: Section 508 applies to all Federal departments and agencies. Section 508 does not apply directly to the private sector, nor does it impose requirements on recipients of Federal financial assistance.

Q. Who is covered under the law?

A: Section 508 covers individuals with disabilities who are Federal employees or applicants for Federal employment. The law also covers members of the public seeking information or services from any Federal department or agency. Complaints from members of the public will be processed through DHHS' Office for Civil Rights.

Q. How will IHS process section 508 complaints from IHS employees or applicants for employment?

A: Section 508 complaints from IHS employees or from applicants for employment with IHS will be processed pursuant to U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations at 29 CFR Part 1614.

Q. What forms of relief are available to complainants under the law?

A: Injunctive relief and attorney's fees (but not compensatory or punitive damages) are available if the complainant prevails in an action against the Agency. In addition, individual with disabilities may file civil actions in U.S. District Court alleging noncompliance with section 508.


By statute, the enforcement provisions of Section 508 apply only to electronic and information technology procured on or after the effective date. As a result, Section 508 does not authorize complaints or lawsuits to retrofit technology procured before this date to meet the Board’s standards. However, even though Section 508’s enforcement mechanisms apply only to procurement, the law does require access to technology developed, used or maintained by a Federal agency. Further, other sections of the Rehabilitation Act require access to Federal programs (Section 504) and accommodation of Federal employees with disabilities ( Section 501 and 504); it is possible that Federal agencies will use the Board’s Section 508 standards as a yardstick to measure compliance with these other sections of the law.

If an employee’s complaint gives rise to claims under both section 501 and 508, the Section 501 claim will be processed under Part 1614 and the Section 508 claim under Part 1615.

IHS employees and applicants with disabilities wishing to file Section 508 complaints may use the following administrative process:

  • Headquarters personnel may contact IHS's Diversity Management and Equal Employment Opportunity Staff at (301) 443-1108 (Voice), or (301) 443-6394 (TTY), to allege discriminatory incidents regarding a Section 508 violation. An EEO Counselor will be assigned to attempt to facilitate resolution of your issues during the informal process. Area Office employees wishing to file a Section 508 complaint should contact their respective Regional Equal Employment Office Manager.
  • Employees employed in and with the Indian Health Service Headquarters should file their EEO complaint with Headquarters DMEEO Staff

If attempts to informally resolve the complaint are unsuccessful, the employee will be given a written notice of their Right to File a Formal complaint. The employee has 15 days from receipt of this notice to submit their formal complaint in writing. The employee may submit their complaint by mail, or in person to the Regional EEO Manager. Formal complaints must be signed and in writing.

  • Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is a term used to describe a variety of approaches to resolving conflict rather than traditional adjudication methods or adversarial methods, such as the agency’s administrative processing. ADR can be used in any stage of the complaint process.

“Undue Burden”

A Federal agency does not have to comply with the technology accessibility standards if it would impose an undue burden to do so. This is consistent with language used in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other civil rights legislation, where the term, "undue burden" has been defined as "significant difficulty or expense." However, the agency must explain why meeting the standards would pose an undue burden for a given procurement action, and must still provide people with disabilities access to the information or data that is affected.

[1] Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998, enacted as title IV of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, Pub. L. No. 105-220, 112 Stat. 936, 1203 (Aug. 7, 1998), codified at 29 U.S.C. 794d.

[2] 65 FR 80500 (December 21, 2000) (codified at 36 CFR Part 1194).