Volume 27, Number 3, Fall 2005

Section 508 and Libraries

by Marilyn Irwin, Associate Professor, School of Library and Information Science, Indiana University, Indianapolis and Vice President/President-Elect of ASCLA

In 1998, Congress passed an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act to include Section 508 related to accessible electronic and information technology. While the law only applies to the federal government, many states have adopted the standards, and that has implications for school, public, and academic libraries across the country.

The law defines electronic and information technology as “information technology and any equipment or interconnected system ï¿Ã‚½ used in the creation, conversion, or duplication of data or information.” This includes, but is not limited to, information kiosks and transaction machines, photocopiers, telephones, Web sites, and fax machines. It does not include assistive technology, such as screen readers and enlargers. The law is designed to first increase universal access to all electronic and information technology. If assistive technology is still necessary, the second component of the law is to ensure compatibility with assistive technology devices.

In 2000, the Access Board issued standards for accessible electronic and information technology. The standards cover software and operating systems, desktop and portable computers, telecommunications products, video and multimedia products, self contained closed products, and the web. In the case of all but the web, the law covers new purchases and does not mandate retrofitting.

To meet the standards of Section 508, the Information Technology Industry Council developed a tool to assist in the vendor selection process. The tool, Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates (VPAT), is completed by the company to let the purchaser know whether a specific product complies with the Section 508 standards. While this is a good tool, let the buyer beware. The template has been completed by the company, and they may or may not know what they are talking about. The VPAT will provide some preliminary assessment information; however, the specifications for each device to be purchased should add the phrase “Section 508 compliant” to increase accountability to accessibility.

The Access Board also developed 16 standards for web accessibility. These standards were developed as an outgrowth of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines developed in 1999 by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium.

Further information about Section 508 and the standards can be found on the web under the Section 508 Law link. Additional information is available from the University of Washington’s AccessIT Web site. If you are associated with a school or academic library, training and technical assistance may be available to you by calling your regional accessible electronic and information technology center (800/949-4232).

Check your Web sites against the standards and consider accessibility when you make your next technology purchase. Providing accessibility electronic and information technology isn’t just the right thing to do, it may also be the law in your state.