In 1998, The US Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act (1973) to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. This was done to eliminate barriers in information technology, to make available new opportunities for people with disabilities, and to encourage development of technologies that will help achieve these goals.
The law applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology. Agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to the access available to others.
The technical standards covered by Section 508 include:
- Software Applications and Operating Systems: includes usability for people that are visually impaired, such as alternative keyboard navigation.
- Web-based Intranet and Internet Information and Applications: assures accessibility to web page graphics by the visually impaired using assistive technology such as screen readers and refreshable Braille displays. This is accomplished by using text labels and descriptors for graphics.
- Telecommunications Products: addresses accessibility for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. This includes technology compatibility with hearing aids, assistive listening devices, and TTYs.
- Videos or Multimedia Products: includes requirements for captioning of multimedia products such as training or informational multimedia productions. Captioning or video descriptors must be able to be turned on or off.
- Self Contained, Closed Products: products with embedded software, such as information kiosks, copiers, and fax machines, often cannot be used with assistive technology. This standard requires that access features be built into these systems.
- Desktop and Portable Computers: discusses accessibility related to mechanically operated controls such as keyboards and touch screens.
You can find out more about Section 508 on Wikipedia.