What is Section 508?

  • "Section 508" was added in 1987 as an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The Rehabilitation Act, in short, prohibits discrimination on the basis of a disability.
    • Section 508 included specific verbiage that dealt with Electronic and Information Technologies (EIT), in recognition of the growth of this field.
    • Section 508, in it's original form, was mostly ineffective. This was due, in part, to the lack of enforcement mechanisms.
  • On August 7, 1998, President Clinton signed into law the Workforce Investment Act which amends the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This amendment strengthened section 508 and required that access to EIT be provided by the Federal government.
  • Since April 2008, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has been making a concerted effort to comply with Section 508 accessibility requirements.
  • HHS has issued a memorandum about its recent tightening of 508 compliance, as well as a framework that describes its five-year plan. All agencies within HHS and contractors doing work for those agencies must comply so that information is accessible to as many citizens as possible.

What Does It Apply To?

  • Section 508 applies to any information being distributed electronically. It includes, but it not limited to:
    • Web Pages (e.g. http://ccr.cancer.gov)
    • Desktop Software (e.g. SciFinder Pro, LMS systems)
    • Documents (e.g. .doc files, .pfd files)
    • Presentations (e.g. .ppt files)
    • Spreadsheets (e.g., .xls files)
  • Section 508 applies to everything from desktop software being used by a few employees within a lab to a web page accessible to anyone in the world – if it's been bought with government funds, it must be 508 compliant.

What Do I Need to Do?

  • HHS has made guidelines and checklists for ensuring your files are 508 compliant available at http://www.hhs.gov/web/508/testdocuments.html These are the checklists that C SS is using to verify compliance, so you can be confident in using them, as well.
  • The checklists includes guidelines for files created in Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft PowerPoint and Adobe Acrobat.
  • The checklists provide tips for conveying information electronically so that it is accessible by disabled and non-disabled persons alike.
  • If you are purchasing software, you should ask the vendor to certify Section 508 compliance or, in the absence of such certification, fill out a VPAT (Voluntary Product Accessibility Template) for the software. Many software vendors provide VPAT's for their software.

Examples of Common 508 Issues

  • Have you filled out the document properties (Title, Author, Subject, Keywords, and Language)?
  • Are meaningful and comprehensive descriptions provided for all images, charts, graphs, and other non-textual elements, so that blind users can understand the importance of the element?
  • Have you used styles to format headings, bulleted lists, and page numbers, as opposed to manually typing them? If not, use the built-in functionality of the authoring application to do so.
  • All slide titles and text must appear in PowerPoint Outline view. Have you created slide titles in PowerPoint using a Title Holder instead of a text box? If you use a text box, it will not show up as the title in Outline view.
  • Do table columns and rows have headings? Is the table readable left to right and top to bottom? If the table breaks across pages, does each page contain its own table heading?
  • If so, you should make sure that there is an alternative way. Are colors used to emphasize different areas of the file understanding the importance of those areas? For example, if you've used red text to indicate the importance of the information, you must explicitly state that importance using words. In addition, you should be careful when using colors because color blind people may have difficulty seeing them or distinguishing one color from another.



  • How long can alternative text be?
  • Example of a 508 critique
  • How to make really big tables accessible in Powerpoint
    • [TBD]
  • Example of 508-compliant video player
    • See http://www.hhs.gov/web/508/video/ HHS guidance on creating 508-compliant video. As for 508-compliant video players, no useful information is currently available. HHS should provide some guidance in time.