July 29, 2013

Web Accessibility within the US

Exrtacts from http://webaim.org/articles/laws/usa/rehab

There are many myths surrounding the realities of US Law and web accessibility. For example, as per the ADA (Americans with Disability Act of 1990) there is no such thing as an accessible website. Title IV—Telecommunications does not include any laws regarding the internet, this was introduced in the Rehabilitation Act of 1998.

Rehabilitation Act of 1973 Overview

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was the first major legislative effort to provide a range of services for persons suffering with physical and cognitive disabilities. Since it’s inception this act has had two amendments, one in 1993 and most recently 1998. Two sections within the Rehabilitation Act, as amended, have an impact on accessible web design. These sections are Sections 504 and 508.

Section 504 provides the context of the lay while section 508 provides the direction.

Section 504

Section 504 is a civil rights law. Included as an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the message of this section is concise;

No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States… shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

Therefore, programs receiving federal funds may not discriminate against those with disabilities based on their disability status. All government agencies, schools, postsecondary entities such as state colleges, universities etc fall into this category.

Section 508

The Reauthorized Rehabilitation Act of 1998 included amendments to Section 508. This section prohibits the Federal Government from procuring electronic and information technology goods and services that are not fully accessible to those with disabilities. This includes the service of web design since the Internet was specifically mentioned.

Section 508 directed the Access Board (The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board) to create binding, enforceable standards that clearly outline and identify specifically what federal government means by “accessible” electronic and information technology products. The first set of accessibility standards for Federal E&IT were published on December 21, 2000.

Influence of Section 508

Although limited to federal agencies, Section 508 is an extremely influential piece of legislation. There are 4 reasons why this is so.

  1. Section 508 provided the first-ever US federal accessibility standard for the Internet. The WCAG existed prior to this, however these guidelines created by the WAI were not intended to be written as standards.
  2. This section provides compliance language that could be monitored at a distance. As stated above, guidelines did exist but not in statutory language. Section 508 outlines binding, enforceable standards that must be adhered to in order for E&IT products to be accessible to persons with disabilities.
  3. State governments may be held accountable for complying with Section 508. All states receive funding under the Assistive Technology Act of 1998. To gain access to this funding, each state must assure the federal government they will implement all conditions of Section 508 within their state entities (including higher education).
  4. Businesses must comply with Section 508 when supplying Electronic and Information Technology goods and services to the federal government. The influence of web accessibility on business and industry is more significant when the demands of a client, or potential client, like the US federal government, must be met.