Section 508 Makes New Technology More Accessible for Families

by Nancy Ek

Americans increasingly use information technology to interact with the government. On June 25, 2001, accessibility requirements, as developed by the Access Board under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, took effect. The standards apply to products procured by Federal agencies after the June 25th effective date. The standards cover a variety of products, including computer software and hardware, phone systems, fax machines, website, copiers, and similar technology. Provisions of these standards spell out what makes these products accessible to people with disabilities, including those with vision, hearing, and mobility impairments.

Section 508 also requires that individuals with disabilities seeking information or services from a Federal agency have access to and the use of information and data comparable to that provided to the public who are not individuals with disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed by the agency.

Here is a sample of some specific provisions: on the Web, a text equivalent for non-text elements shall be provided. Voice mail, auto-attendant, and interactive voice response telecommunication systems shall be usable by TTY users. Caller ID and similar telecommunication functions shall be available for users of TTY's. Televisions larger than 13 inches and computer equipment shall be equipped with a closed caption decoder circuitry. (The 9 inch models currently popular in vehicles are not large enough to support closed captioning.) Training and information video and multimedia productions produced by or for the Federal government will be open or closed captioned. Products will have at least one mode of operation and information retrieval that does not require hearing and similarly at least one mode that does not require vision.

End users shall be provided product support documentation and accessibility and compatibility features of products in alternate formats upon request, at no additional charge. Support services for products shall accommodate the communication needs of end users with disabilities.

For more information on Section 508, see: or contact the Rocky Mountain ADA Technical Assistance Center at or 1-800-949-4232 (Voice/TTY), and in Colorado Springs at 719-444-0268.


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