The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by, receiving financial assistance from, or employing federal employees or contractors in federal agencies. The Rehabilitation Act has several sections impacting digital accessibility, including 504 and 508:
Section 504 prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in federal entities, or programs that receive federal financial assistance. It aims to protect children and adults with disabilities from exclusion, and unequal treatment in schools, jobs and the community. Section 504 sets the stage for enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Subsequent amendments to the Rehabilitation act of 1973 strengthened requirements for access to electronic and information technology in the federal sector.
Section 508, an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, mandates that all electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by the federal government be accessible to people with disabilities, including employees and members of the public.
On January 18, 2017 the Access Board, an independent federal agency that promotes equality for people with disabilities, issued a final rule or “508 Refresh” that updates accessibility requirements for information and communication technology in the federal sector.
Section 508 Refresh
The Section 508 refresh jointly updates and reorganizes the Section 508 standards in response to market trends and innovations, such as the convergence of technologies. The refresh also harmonizes these requirements with other guidelines and standards both in the U.S. and abroad, including standards issued by the European Commission and with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a globally recognized voluntary consensus standard for web content and information and communication technology. Specifically, the rule references WCAG 2.0 Level AA success criteria and applies them not only to websites, but also to electronic documents and software.