Importance of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

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What is the Rehabilitation Act of 1973?

Stephen “John” Brademas is an American politician and educator originally from Indiana who served as the 13th president of New York University and was the principal sponsor of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (also known as the Rehab Act). Enacted in September 26, 1973 by US President Richard Nixon, this federal law was the first true legislative effort to create equal rights for individuals with disabilities.   The Rehabilitation Act requires affirmative action and disallows discrimination on the basis of disability in federal agency conducted programs as well as programs receiving federal financial assistance.  This includes federal employment and the employment practices of federal contractors.  The standards for determining employment discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act are exactly the same for those utilized in Title 1 of the American Disabilities

The legislation includes individuals with physical and cognitive disabilities.  Those types of disabilities can create incredible barriers for employment as well as the pursuit of independent living and access to information.  The barrier to access of information is what the focus of this article is on., specifically electronic and digital information.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

In 1998 United States Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to mandate Federal agencies to make all of their digital and electronic information  accessible to individuals with disabilities.  This law became what is now known as Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  The original Section 508 amendment was included in the Rehabilitation Act in 1986, but had to be revised to include enforcement and the changes with occurred as a result of the World Wide Web.  Under the new and updated Section 508, agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to digital information that is equal and comparable to information available to others (non-disabled individuals).   This includes all services of web design and the Internet.  Those individuals directly involved with the creation of websites and other Internet-related platforms should take these laws under careful consideration when developing websites.  In my article on Web Accessibility I provide ways in which web developers can make their websites more accessible to individuals with disabilities.   When websites are 508 compliant, they are accessible to all individuals, breaking down those barriers which prevent individuals with disabilities from accessing the web.

Who Does it Pertain to?  Who is Required to be 508 Compliant?

All federal agencies and institutions receiving federal funds are required to be 508 compliant.  This includes the following:

  • Public K-12 Schools
  • Public Universities & Higher Education Institutions
  • Federal Funded Non-Profits
  • Government Agencies

Why Should I Care?

Okay, so you might be asking yourself:

“Well, I do not fall into any of those categories.  I am an independent web developer.  I own an online business and I do not receive any federal funding.  Therefore, why should I care?”

It is true that you are not required by the law to make your websites and other digital information accessible to individuals with disabilities.  However, let’s look at things from another perspective.   According to a recent poll from the United States Census Bureau, nearly 1 in 5 Americans have a disability.  That is 20% of the entire US population. Some countries have even higher percentiles of individuals with disabilities.   Currently 10% of the world’s population has a disability, especially higher for those living in developing countries due to the higher incidence of diseases and malnutrition. According to the United Nations Development Program nearly 80% of persons with disabilities living in developing countries.  With the statistics being what they are, do you really wish to exclude 20% of the US population and 10% of the world population from being able to access your website and the products and services you are offering because you are too lazy to make some changes to your website?   Wouldn’t you rather be all to say that your website is accessible to everyone, thus, giving you greater exposure and more traffic to your site?  You will receive greater trust among your readers and a higher amount of respect for taking the time to make a difference.

Not to mention, it is the right thing to do.  Making your website accessible does not require money unless you are going to pay experts to do it for you.  All it requires is your time, dedication and commitment to do it, regardless of whether or not you are a federal agency.


Disability Statistics: Facts & Statistics on Disabilities & Disability Issues – World health and disability statistics and facts including country and state population numbers with disabilities.

Are You Living With a Disability?

For more information on this topic, read my article on Web Accessibility: Yes it Matters for ideas on how you can making your website more accessible.  If you are an individual living with a disability and finding it difficult to obtain employment, you are not alone.  Consider going into business for yourself and learn how to become a web developer.  You will know better than anyone the importance of making your websites accessible and adhering to 508 compliance standards.  You can also use your own insight and experience as a person living with a disability to increase awareness on how individuals with disabilities access the Internet and why it is critical given the high impact digitization has on our world.   With being your own boss, you could set your own schedule and take time off whenever you need for medical appointments, family or just some downtime.  Go to Getting Started now and discover ways in which you can earn money from home while being your own boss with your own schedule.


Comments Always Welcome

Please leave comments, questions and suggestions below and I will reply shortly.  I thoroughly enjoy hearing from all of my readers.


Steph Hill

Greetings! It is a pleasure to meet you. My name is Stephanie and the aim of this website is to help newcomers to the field of internet marketing by providing free easy-to-follow tutorials, product reviews and resources. I hope you find the information useful and down-to-earth. My background is in librarianship, technical writing, special education, software training and web design. Please leave a comment with your questions and I will be happy to answer them.

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18 thoughts on “Importance of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

  1. Wow, I was not aware of the information that is in this post. I will definitely look into what I can do to better accommodate anyone with a disability. I was not aware that 10 percent of the worlds population has a disability. This is very important and hope others will also take the time to do the right thing. Thanks! Great post!

    1. Hi Ananomyx:

      You are certainly welcome and thank you for taking the time to read my article today. Please feel free to share my post on your social media sites and let me know if I can help in any way.


  2. I guess I figured that my website was accessible to everyone already. But do you also mean accessible like for individuals that have visual or hearing impairments? Or simply just on the web for public viewing? I have a cousin that has cerebral palsy and has been in a wheelchair since she was three. Her computer is her life. So I imagine that this plays a huge role in her life.

    1. Hi Sarah:

      Thank you for reading my article on the importance of Section 508. In answer to your question, yes, when I speak about individuals with disabilities, I am definitely including those with visual or hearing impairments.

      For individuals with visual impairments, they may not be able to read the websites like we do. People with visual disabilities use screen readers which is an assistive technology device that helps seeing-impaired persons read and understand content. One of the limitations of a screen reader is it cannot translate images like it can text. That is why in my tutorial on web accessibility, I show you how to add ALT tags to your images.

      For people with hearing impairments, they will not be able to hear videos that are displayed on websites. That is why with my video tutorials I have listed on my website, I include written instructions as well with screen shots to explain the material. Captions are also helpful to and easy to implement.

      Thank you for visiting and I hope this information was helpful.


  3. You know….this is probably something that not a lot of online marketers or developers even think about. Im really glad that i stumbled across this and actually took the time to read it.

    People with disabilities should 100% be allowed to be given the same digital information and have that information fed to them in a way that they can see/hear/pertain. Makes me want to go back and do some work on a lot more of my older sites to make them more accessible…

    1. Hi Petar:

      You are right when you sat that web accessibility is an issue that many affiliate marketers do not think about. Not only is it the right and ethical thing to do to help individuals with disabilities access your website, it is also better for your business. And yes, people with disabilities should absolutely be given access to the same digital information that is accessible to people without disabilities.

      Let me know if you need help with going back to your old websites and making those revisions. Thank you for stumbling across this website.


  4. Hi Steph,

    Honestly, this is not something I would even have known about – had no idea there was such a thing as 508 Compliance.

    For example, I would never have thought to include ‘feelings’ into my alt tags for my pics – but I’ll be sure to do that from now on.

    Thanks again,

    1. Hi Sean:

      I am glad this article was an eye opener to you on the importance of designing websites with all users in mind. With respect to include “feelings” in your alt tags, when an individual with a disability is using a screen reader, since they cannot see the image nor the facial expressions of the people in the images, it is nice to tell the user of the screen reader what is happening in the photograph or image. If we do not tell them the people photographed in the image are happy, how is a person who is unable to see the image supposed to know that. The meaning of your content can and will be lost when a person does not realize what is occurring in the photo. It is our responsibility as ethical web developers to tell them what is happening in the images and allow that person who is using a screen reader to get as much out of our content as someone who does not have a disability. This is about paying it forward and making the right choices to include everyone who will be visiting our websites.

      Thank you for visiting and reading this article. Please come back soon.


  5. And I feel totally ashamed to say that this had never occurred to me before…the idea of making my site accessible to those with disability. I’ve bookmarked the article on accessibility because I am many things, but lazy I am not. Thanks Steph.

    1. Hi May:

      No need to be ashamed. My article was not intended to make anyone feel guilty or ashamed. It was meant to only open our eyes and increase our awareness to how individuals with disabilities view the web. It is easy to take for granted what we have, such as our five senses not to mention the ability to use our arms and legs. I recently visited a cousin of mine who has been in a wheelchair since he was a senior in high school due to a car accident and it was eye opening to me to see what barriers still exist for him despite the laws and regulations we have today.

      I am glad you have been bookmarked the article. I hope you learned something today. Please come back soon and if you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask.


  6. Steph, two things struck me while reading your post here.

    One, isn’t it a crying shame that we have to have laws that evoke people to do the right thing?

    Two, shamefully, I have given exactly zero thought to the folks with disabilities with regard to viewing my website, save some alt text in meta. This is something I will rectify soon, so thank you for your thought provoking post.

    I read through your Web Accessibility: Yes It Matters post and thankfully, I am using WordPress. I believe that I need to touch up on two of my sites though. Do you have any recommendations for testing if a site is accessibility friendly?

    1. Hi Christian:

      Unfortunately, we do live in a world in which laws are necessary. When it comes to web accessibility, it is not that people knowingly break the laws that govern disability rights. It comes down to awareness and not realizing the hardship many have when navigating both offline and online.

      Don’t feel bad that you have not thought of this issue prior to now. It is a common concern among web designers and it is generally not taught in web design schools either which is sad. There is not enough awareness about the issues facing individuals with disabilities when they access the web. This is rapidly becoming more of a problem due to the ever increasing need to use the Internet to do everything from banking to travel arrangements to gift purchasing to work-related tasks such as email. It is an area that is in high demand and unfortunately an area that is seriously neglected.

      In answer to your question regarding testing your site for web accessibility standards, check out The Wave – it will give you some ideas on how to improve your website.


  7. Great and informative post! I really like how you go into the history of this act (something for history-buffs like me) and relate it to how this is relevant in one’s line of work. You’ve done a great job of citing your resources, which also helps those who want to do a bit further research into these areas. Thank you for your research on this, and sharing the knowledge!

    1. Hi Sal:

      Thank you for the kind comment. As a former educator, I cannot stress the importance of citing your sources, so thank you for noting that. Let me know if there is anything I can help with. I am glad the article was an eye opener to realizing the importance of 508 compliance for our websites we design.


  8. Hello, I just wanted to say what a breath of fresh air this article is! I was already aware of using “Alt” tags for images so that screen readers could pick them up but I have really learned something here today.

    I for one will be going through your article again and making some changes to my website now that I understand why we need to do it.


    1. Hi Andrew:

      Good to see you. Thank you for visiting my article today. I am glad my article on the importance of 508 compliance was beneficial to you. Be sure to bookmark my site as I will continue to write more about this topic in subsequent posts. Have a wonderful day.


  9. I was riveted. I read this from beginning to end without stopping. I don’t quite know what to say. I guess I feel stupid as an educator for not knowing about section 508.

    I’m going to read your Web Accessibility: Yes It Matters to see what I can do with my website to make it accessible to everyone.

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Rawl:

      Always good to see you. I am glad you found my article on the 508 compliance beneficial and easy to follow. I know it is a bit longer than some of my other articles, but the information is important. And I am really glad you decided to read Web Accessibility: Yes it Matters too. There is actually much more to web accessibility than what I wrote on, and I will be sure to continue to write about this topic in my future posts, because I have yet to only scratched the surface.


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