Leveling the Accessibility Playing Field: Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act

June 16, 2012

Innovative technology is an essential asset in the information age. Most people have the ability to obtain information about almost any topic at the click of a mouse thanks to recent developments in Internet and home computer technology. But many people face obstacles in obtaining the same information due to mental and physical disabilities. Although technology has been developed to assist individuals with disabilities, most electronic and information technology is not compatible with these products. As a result, millions of people find it difficult or impossible to utilize basic electronic and information technology that non-disabled individuals use freely.
In an attempt to correct this disparity, Congress has amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to include provisions that apply to federal agencies. Effective as of June 21, 2001, the 1998 amendment to section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (herein section 508) requires all United States federal agencies to comply with accessibility standards administered by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (herein Access Board). These standards ensure that electronic and information technology is accessible to disabled persons to the extent it does not pose an undue burden on an agency.
The following Recent Development provides insight on section 508, its application, requirements, exceptions, available solutions, and the remedies available for an agency’s failure to comply with the enumerated standards of section 508. Additionally, because of the overwhelming concern and confusion surrounding section 508’s effect on websites, this Recent Development will focus primarily on this aspect of the legislation.