The long anticipated refresh of the Section 508 standards went into effect on January 18th of this year. These standards are part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and cover mainly technologies that are procured, developed, or used by federal agencies (source: United States Access Board). Simply put, Section 508 provides guidelines at the federal level to ensure that people using technology can access it.
Why does this matter to us at Western, especially since we already have Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0? Aside from ensuring we make great content, Western is a public educational institution receiving federal dollars. This means in return we need to follow federal laws and regulations, including Section 508.
This post will outline some key improvements in Section 508 so we can continue providing accessible tech.
WCAG 2.0 is Baked Right In
A major revision to Section 508 is using WCAG 2.0 as the baseline for websites, non-web digital content and software. This means by designing digital content to WCAG 2.0, it also satisfies the refreshed Section 508. As the saying goes, two birds with one stone, right? As long as WCAG guidelines are considered in the creation and design of digital content and tech, a lot of the Section 508 guidelines will also be met.
Accessible Legacy Content is Fine — Until It’s Updated
The Section 508 refresh offers a “Safe Harbor” clause for technology that satisfied the previous Section 508 accessibility standards. The clause applies to only technology or digital content that is not altered after January 18th, 2018. However, if you update legacy tech or content after January 18th, it then falls under the new refresh guidelines and needs to be designed for those guidelines.
Introducing VPAT 2.0
A Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT), regardless of whether or not the information is accurate, is a great indicator of where a product or business is in their accessibility journey and can help us decide whether or not to use that product. Prior to January 18th, tech vendors used VPAT 1.0 to show how it complied with Section 508.
VPAT 1.0 is no longer with us — the new standard is VPAT 2.0, which reflects the change in 508 guidelines that now include WCAG 2.0. You can learn more about VPAT 2.0 at the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI)’s VPAT page.
I truly hope this post is informative for some of you, especially those who purchase software or other tech. When we consider accessibility in the products we use, we are asking, “Could everyone use this product the way it was intended to be used?” When we pause to ask this question, we are already improving the Western experience for our community.