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.
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