This page provides a summary of the applicability of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act, and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to web accessibility.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that the Federal government procure electronic and information technology that meets defined accessibility standards. Although Section 508 does not require private sector technology companies to conform to the standards, it provides strong motivation by requiring Federal agencies to purchase products that best meet the standards.
The Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act does apply to private sector companies. It requires telecommunication products and services to be accessible whenever it is "readily achievable."
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in essence requires accommodation in the provision of public services and employment. The ADA empowers employees to request "reasonable accommodations" throughout the business environment-including intranet sites, software, and hardware. Thus, your employees and your customers' employees are another motivation for providing accessible technology.
The ADA is also being applied to web sites of organizations and businesses. Companies are taking note of lawsuits filed in civil courts on behalf of advocacy groups and individuals under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). (Resources below have more information.)
ADA Compliance for Web Sites?
In a sense, there is no such thing as "ADA compliance" for web sites. While the ADA has been applied to web sites, it does not include specific guidelines for web site accessibility. In an effort to meet the spirit of the ADA, several organizations have adopted WCAG Priority 1 and Priority 2 Checkpoints as their standard for web site accessibility.
WCAG is an internationally approved recommendation through the W3C. However, W3C has no enforcement function, so in and of itself, WCAG is a recommendation only. However, WCAG can be adopted as an enforceable standard.
Bobby Compliance Covers Legal Concerns?
Bobby (www.cast.org/bobby) is a tool to help web page authors identify and repair significant accessibility issues. Although helpful, Bobby alone cannot determine accessibility. Manual inspection is required.
While current versions of Bobby check WCAG Priority 1, 2, and 3 Checkpoints, Bobby approval is based only on Priority 1 Checkpoints. Also, to date, Bobby does not explicitly handle the web provisions of EITAS, the Section 508 standards. (Update: A new version of Bobby released in December 2001 does nore directly address 508 standards. I have not had a chance to evalute it throughly yet.)
Complying with Section 508?
It is a matter of terminology. U.S. Federal government agencies comply with Section 508 regulations when they follow its provisions, particularly in procurement. It is the government, not products, that must comply. A product can conform to Section 508 EITAS standards (and thus likely be chosen over products that do not).