SECTION 508: WEB-BASED INFORMATION & APPLICATIONS IN FEDERAL AGENCIES

In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities.  Known as Section 508, the law applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology.  Section 508 (29 U.S.C. ‘749d) requires that Federal agencies’ electronic and information technology is accessible to people with disabilities.

Section 1194.22 of the Act refers to “Web-based Intranet and Internet Information and Applications.” 
The criteria for web-based technology and information ensures that people with vision impairments who use assistive products to access computer-based information will receive the information in an sensible format.  These assistive products are typically “screen readers” that translate text on a web page into audible output or refreshable Braille displays. 

The use of verbal tags or identification of graphics and format devices (frames) allow assistive devices to “read” these tags for the user in a sensible format.  Section 508 is not intended to discourage the use of web graphics or animations, rather the standards are intended to ensure that the graphical information is also available in an accessible format.

Web graphics and animations are made accessible to these “screen readers” through use of text labels or descriptors for graphics and certain format elements.  HTML code provides an “Alt Text” tag for graphics that can be used for a verbal description of the graphic.

For example: 

HTML Source Code: Audacious Inquiry Logo

Above, the “ALT TAG” allows the “screen reader” to announce that the graphic depicts the Audacious Inquiry logo. 
 
Section 1194.22, “Web-based Intranet and Internet Information and Applications,”  also addresses the usability of multimedia presentations, image maps, style sheets, scripting languages, applets and plug-ins, and electronic forms.

All IT government contractors building web portals or web-based tools for a government agency should spend time understanding and implementing Section 508 requirements.