Laws Regarding Accessibility

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires federal agencies and programs to implement accessibility standards to websites, digital documents, and audio/video/multimedia content. Section 508 states that “when developing, procuring, maintaining, or using electronic and information technology, each Federal department or agency…. shall ensure, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the department or agency, that the electronic and information technology allows, regardless of the type of medium of the technology, individuals with disabilities… to have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access of those who are not individuals with disabilities.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act affords individuals with disabilities the same rights as groups protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Section 504 states that “no otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States… shall, solely by the reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance or any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency or by the United States Postal Service.

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits disability discrimination by state funded schools, which includes higher education institutions, and these institutions must provide access to all programs and services offered.

In short, Section 504 declares civil rights for individuals with disabilities, and Section 508 sets requirements for accessible technology. The difference between Section 504 and Title II is that unlike Section 504, which only covers programs receiving Federal financial assistance, Title II extends to State and local governments whether or not they receive Federal funds. Colleges and universities are required to comply with these laws.

Multimedia: Videos, live videos, and audio content must contain a transcript or captioning.
Images: A description of any image that is considered essential content must be accessible to screen reading software (such as JAWS).
Electronic documents: All electronic or digital content (Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, PDF, for example) must be made accessible for screen reading software.