The relationship between accessibility laws and standards
As explained on our Legal and Policy Requirements page, the UW is subject to federal laws that prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Both Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 require that our programs and services be accessible to qualified individuals with disabilities. However, neither of these laws currently have specific regulations that define technology accessibility. However, technology accessibility standards and guidelines have existed for many years, and provide a reasonable basis for defining and measuring technology accessibility.
W3C Web content accessibility guidelines
The Section 508 Standards are the definitive set of standards for the full spectrum of IT accessibility products. However, for web accessibility, the Section 508 standards are informed by a more comprehensive set of standards developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 were published in 2008, and include 62 success criteria, organized under four general principles:
- Perceivable – Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
- Operable – User interface components and navigation must be operable.
- Understandable – Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.
- Robust – Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
Each of the 63 success criteria are identified with one of three priority levels. Level A is the lowest level of conformance, and includes a basic set of core accessibility issues (such as alternate text on images and captions and videos). Level AA includes additional success criteria such as providing a visible focus indicator for keyboard users, and ensuring sufficient color contrast. Level AAA is the highest level of conformance. Conforming to WCAG 2.0 at Level AAA would mean all 63 success criteria have been met.
Federal standards: Section 508
Section 508 standards were developed by the Access Board, a federal agency, as required by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act as amended in 1998. The law requires accessibility of electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by the federal government. The standards were published in the Federal Register in 2001 in order to provide guidance to federal agencies when developing or procuring IT. The Section 508 standards are currently organized into six categories:
- Software applications and operating systems
- Web-based intranet and internet information and applications
- Telecommunications products
- Video and multimedia products
- Self contained, closed products
- Desktop and portable computers.
Many states have adopted Section 508 standards, including Washington (see the Legal and Policy Requirements page for additional information about Washington State Guidelines).
However, since the Section 508 standards were published in 2001, they are no longer reflective of today’s technologies. The Access Board is charged with periodically reviewing and amending the standards to reflect changes in technology, and are in fact currently conducting an update of the standards. To date they have issued two drafts, the most recent of which was aligned with the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 at Level AA.
As the Section 508 refresh progresses, new developments will be posted to the Access Board’s Section 508 Homepage.