In a move to bolster digital inclusivity, lawmakers have championed a proposal targeting the enhanced accessibility of digital platforms. For organizations across multiple industries, the legislative push places a renewed emphasis on making websites and other information technology (IT) available to those with disabilities.

The legislative push aims to fortify the prominence of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which prevents nondiscrimination on the basis of disability by federal agencies, government contractors, and any programs receiving federal funding.

Section 508 requires IT belonging to these organizations to be accessible for people with disabilities - a group that makes up about 13 percent of the U.S. population, according to 2019 Census data. 

In this blog, we will discuss the profound impact of the new legislation, review the fundamentals of digital-access laws, and explain how LanguageLine is an ideal partner in these times, as our expertise with accessibility services can help organizations like yours take on these new responsibilities. 

A Call for Reform

The urgent call for reform comes in the wake of recent findings that highlight deeply concerning lapses in accessibility standards across digital spaces, particularly those belonging to the Federal government. 

In February, the Department of Justice issued its first legally mandated report on Section 508 compliance in federal agencies since 2012. It found that 14 percent of federal agencies’ web pages weren’t accessible. Within these agencies, the conformance rate of intranet pages was even more dismal at only 41 percent. Among the government’s most-downloaded files, a staggering 80 percent of the PDFs were not accessible.

Sen. Bob Casey, chair of the Senate Committee on Aging, has introduced a new bipartisan proposal meant to take on these issues and improve the accessibility of federal websites and IT. 

The proposal, called the Federal Agency Accessibility Compliance Act, “will bolster the role of federal Section 508 compliance officers in federal agencies, require agency and department heads to personally certify… that their organization's technology is accessible and to post plans and timelines if their agency technology is not accessible,” Casey said during a Senate Aging Committee hearing on government tech accessibility.

The proposal would also create new Section 508 compliance officers responsible for ensuring that their agencies meet the law’s standards.

“These bills are common sense legislation designed to ensure federal government services, programs and communications are accessible to all Americans,” Casey said. 

A Review of Section 508 Compliance

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was the first law to outline ways in which the American government should support people with disabilities. The years that followed its enactment were marked by major leaps forward in technology; the kind that couldn’t have been predicted or addressed when the Rehabilitation Act was first passed. The disability community often found itself facing technological barriers when engaging with organizations that needed to comply with the law.

To address these developments, Section 508 was added to the Rehabilitation Act. Section 508 accessibility standards were established to resolve accessibility barriers for government employees and public citizens with a range of common disabilities who deserve equal access to information technology, equipment, and related services. 

Today, Section 508 applies to software and websites, along with online documents, video and audio content, and social media posts. For these to be considered Section 508-compliant, they must be able to be accessed and used by people with disabilities. 

Achieving Section 508 compliance is mandatory for federal agencies and organizations that receive funding from the federal government.

Section 508 also applies to contractors or third-party workers that provide services to government bodies or organizations that receive federal funds, including Medicare. This means that small businesses that receive government grants or contract work with federal agencies need to be Section 508-compliant.

Achieving Section 508 Compliance

In 2017, Section 508’s technical requirements were updated to incorporate the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)

WCAG has become one of the most influential sets of guidelines pertaining to web accessibility. WCAG also includes instructions on how to configure other IT (such as online documents and videos) so that it is accessible to people with disabilities.

There are three different levels for conforming to the WCAG: Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA. To comply with Section 508, organizations must conform with Level AA. 

LanguageLine Accessibility Services

LanguageLine is an ideal partner in helping you achieve compliance with Section 508. Our team has over 30 years of experience in digital accessibility analysis, as well as transcription and remediation for documents and PDFs.

Our technology, combined with our expertise and ability to produce accurate documents with minimal turn time, makes for a successful outcome for any project. Our solutions include:

Website Compliance Auditing: All websites are audited to the WCAG AA standards. We provide page-by-page reporting, including a detailed assessment comprising the failures linked to the guideline failure, sample code, and recommendations on how to satisfy the WCAG guideline.

Once the audit is complete, a formal report will be provided with an overview of the accessibility level of the website.

Accessible Document Services: Documents can be converted to Braille, large print, TTS audio, plain text, and WCAG AA-compliant PDF. 

We invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We look forward to learning more about the opportunities that lie within your organization. 

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