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Summary of Section 508 Accessibility Requirements
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, as amended, requires that when federal agencies develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology (EIT), federal employees with disabilities must have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to access enjoyed by federal employees who have no disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the agency. Section 508 also requires that individuals with disabilities, who are members of the public seeking information or services from a federal agency, must have access to and use of information and data comparable to access available to members of the public without disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the agency.
Although federal agencies have an explicit statutory obligation to make all EIT that they develop, maintain or use compliant with Section 508, the current emphasis is on newly procured EIT because it is the category that is explicitly enforceable by legal action. Procurement awards made on or after June 25, 2001, are subject to Section 508 (see FAR Final Rule, PDF).
According to the Access Board, the Section 508 requirements do not apply retroactively to pre-existing EIT. Specifically, the "Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards: Economic Assessment" states that
“The standards are to be applied prospectively and do not require Federal agencies to retrofit existing electronic and information technology. As agencies upgrade and change their electronic and information technology, they must comply with the standards.” (See Chapter 2.1 Final Standards)
It should be noted, however, that other federal regulations and guidelines (e.g., Section 501 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act) require equal access for individuals with disabilities. Therefore, federal agencies are required, upon request, to provide information and data to individuals with disabilities through an alternative means of access that can be used by these individuals.