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Section 508, an amendment to the United States Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973, is a federal law mandating that all electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by the federal government be accessible to people with disabilities. Technology is deemed to be "accessible" if it can be used as effectively by people with disabilities as by those without. To demonstate that a product or Web service is in compliance with Section 508, the creator completes a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT), an "informational tool" that describes exactly how the product or service does or does not meet Section 508 standards. The completed VPAT gets posted on the creator's Web site to provide government officials and consumers with access to the information.
The scope of Section 508 is limited to the federal sector. It includes binding, enforceable standards, as well as compliance reporting requirements and a complaint procedure. Section 508 doesn't apply to the private sector, nor does it impose requirements on the recipients of federal funding. Because the federal government has so much purchasing power, however, it is hoped that Section 508 will encourage the developement of products and Web-based services that meet accessibility standards. To that end, the United Stated Department of Education now requires states funded by the Assistive Technology Act State Grant program (a grant program that supports consumer-driven state projects to improve access to assistive technology devices and services) to comply with Section 508.
Accessibility policies like Section 508 vary from country to country, but most countries, including the European Union (EU), have adopted standards based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines of the World Wide Web Consortium. Section 508 is based on W3C Priority 1 checkpoints.
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- The US Dept of Health and Human Services provides a synopsis of Section 508 accessibility requirements.
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