With publication in the Federal Register on January 18, 2017, the long-awaited Section 508 Refresh became a reality. Publication started a 60-day countdown to the rule’s taking effect on March 20. Compliance with the new Section 508–based standards is required starting January 18, 2018. This Spotlight provides basic information regarding what the Refresh might mean for eLearning.

What is Section 508?

Section 508 is an amendment to the US Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It requires federal agencies to ensure that all electronic and information technology and content that they develop, obtain, or maintain is fully accessible to people with disabilities. The Refresh updates the requirements that equipment and content must meet to be considered accessible.

So, what does the Refresh mean for eLearning?

Federal agencies are required to comply with Section 508; therefore, any business that supplies electronic and information technology, goods, or services to a federal agency must ensure that those items meet the updated accessibility standards. This includes hardware and software, website design, apps—and educational or training programs.

In addition, many state governments have adopted Section 508, and all states receive funding under the Assistive Technology Act. Therefore, most state agencies and their suppliers, including state universities, are also required to comply.

The regulations apply to all publicly accessible content and to most official communication content, including emergency notifications, policy announcements, notices of program eligibility or employment opportunities, questionnaires, forms and templates, and educational or training materials.

This means, for example, that all eLearning that a state university offers, whether standalone courses or elements of in-person courses, must meet the new guidelines.