Section 508, Section 504 and the ADA all impact the delivery of web-based content for institutes of higher education. To clarify:
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 is U.S. federal law. It provides specific instructions that must be followed when creating web-based content. For example, Section 508 requires that every non-text element (image, chart, graph, audio, video, animation, etc.) must be accompanied by a text equivalent for those who are not able to see, hear or otherwise access the non-text element. Thus, Section 508 provides standards for compliance.
Section 504 and the ADA are civil rights legislation.
Section 504 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in 1990 in order to make American society more accessible to individuals with disabilities. It also prohibits discrimination based on disability.
When individuals file lawsuits or civil rights complaints against institutes of higher education, they do so based on Section 504 or ADA violations.
Section 508 was originally written for federal agencies. However, all states that receive funding through the Assistive Technology Act must also comply with Section 508. Since the state of Georgia receives funding under the Assistive Technology Act, the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia has determined that all institutions under the Board of Regents fall within the scope of Section 508.
Section 508 provides accessibility standards to be followed in the procurement, development, maintenance and utilization of the following:
Software Applications and Operating Systems
Web-based Intranet and Internet Information and Applications
Video or Multimedia Products
Self-contained, Closed Products
Desktop and Portable Computers
Section 508 Refresh
Due to advancements in web-based technologies and upgraded features of Assistive Technologies (utilized by individuals with disabilities to access web-based information), the current Section 508 Standards are being updated.
The Section 508 Refresh has been underway for several years and has an anticipated release date of 2013.
If you are a newcomer to web accessibility, following the existing Section 508 Standards will provide you with a solid foundation and understanding of web accessibility when the (more extensive) Section 508 Refresh is signed into law.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) are international guidelines established by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C).
They differ from Section 508 in that WCAG 2.0 are recommended guidelines for international organizations. The Section 508 Standards, on the other hand, are legal requirements set forth by the U.S. government.
The existing Section 508 Standards and the WCAG 2.0 Guidelines are similar, but not the same. Currently, the Board of Regents requires Section 508-compliance and endorses the WCAG 2.0 guidelines.
Note: If signed into law as currently written, the Section 508 Refresh is expected to harmonize with the WCAG 2.0 making it easier in the future to comply with both national standards and international guidelines.