When we wish a very happy 16th anniversary to Section 508, we feel as though we are wishing a happy anniversary to 1 out of 5 Americans, or the 20% of the population with disabilities. This is the demographic whom the law benefits. As a company that values the contributions that people with disabilities make to not only the workforce, but to the greater society at large, we are thrilled to celebrate the anniversary of the law. But just exactly what and who are we celebrating?
On August 7, 1998, President Clinton signed Section 508 into law. Previously in 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by Federal agencies, in programs receiving Federal financial assistance, in Federal employment, and in the employment practices of government contractors. Cue the need for Section 508!
On that fateful day in 1998, Congress and ultimately President Clinton strengthened provisions covering access to information technology in the federal sector. Think of Section 508 as disability advocacy for technology. Officially, Section 508 requires access to the federal government’s electronic and information technology. The law applies to all federal agencies when they develop, procure, or maintain, such technology. The stipulations pretty much cover all the bases of technology, and its use by people with disabilities.
This is important for a number of reasons, but let’s narrow it down to two. First, this ensures that Federal employees have the right to accessible technology in the workplace. Section 508 requires that the government purchase, or procure accessible solutions. It’s certainly not news that having accessible technology, like notebooks, printers, servers, and software, in the workplace can help make workers more productive. However, sixteen years later, it’s still worth celebrating.
On another note, Section 508 transcends beyond the Federal workforce. It also includes the output of the government. Websites, forms, PDF, governmental software, apps, and other forms of IT, must factor in accessibility. Consider just how much the government churns out every day—it’s truly an unfathomable amount. Knowing that these documents, programs, projects, and beyond, have been designed to consider usage by people with disabilities is a huge step in the right direction from the past.
Of course, compliance to Section 508 isn’t at a perfect 100%. There are still a bunch of changes needed to be made to products, and knowledge to be transferred. Additionally, technology does not exist in a vacuum. New products, like software, mobile apps, and documents are being created at a lightning pace, and Section 508 helps ensure that accessibility is a factor.
Companies like Accessibility Partners exist to help fill the gaps where Section 508 needs to be considered. Our commitment to legislation of this type goes beyond following the letter of the law, but improving the lives of all users with disabilities. We truly feel that accessibility is a human right: technology must be accessible for innovation to exist for all users.
Please join us in celebrating a very happy anniversary to Section 508, and too many more!