508 Refresh Goes Live – New Law In Effect on January 18, 2018

The long awaited Refresh of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act becomes the law of the land on January 18, 2018.  Word Wizards has covered the refresh since its’ early planning phase. During the rule making process, we covered the progress of the new regulations and submitted comments in support of 508 accessible transcripts as an alternative to audio description for pre-recorded video media. (See e.g. “Public Comments” Blog Article)We informed our clients and the public about the impact of the final proposed rules.(See e.g. “Final Rule Impact” Article).  Upon its official adoption, we provided a detailed analysis of the refreshed rule and how it will affect information and communication technology (ICT) including video going forward. (See “Detailed Analysis” Article).

Accesibility for all! Keyboard with retunr key in blue as a handicap wheelchair symbol.

New Year New 508 Rules

2017 was a year of many changes. In addition to the changes instated by the 508 refresh law, the faces of politics and regulatory agencies in Washington have drastically changed. This has led many to ask the logical question of, “what will be the effect of the new administration on the development and enforcement of 508 compliance?”  At this time, we have not found any instances where President Trump has directly commented on either the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) which applies broadly across the economic sector; or to the 508 Refresh which applies to the public sector. However, we can gain some insight by examining the background of the current nominee for head of the department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Alex Azar. Azar has been both a government insider and a private sector executive in the health care field.

Alex Azar
Azar with Mary Harney (Irish Minister for Health and Children)


HHS Gets A New Boss

HHS is the largest non-military government organization, with an annual budget of over $1 trillion.  HHS remains at the forefront among Government agencies in enforcing and maintaining accessibility for their 80,000 employees and the public at large.  On August 3, 2001, Alex Azar was confirmed as the General Counsel of HHS. He played an important role in responding to the 2001 anthrax attacks, making sure there was a vaccine ready for small pox, and dealing with outbreaks of SARS and influenza. 1

On July 22, 2005, he was confirmed as the Deputy Secretary of HHS.   He was therefore twice confirmed (unanimously) by the United States Senate.  He led the development and approval of all HHS regulations and led the U.S. government efforts to encourage worldwide pharmaceutical and medical device innovation.  Azar resigned from HHS in January 2007.  In June 2007, he was hired by Eli Lilly to be the company’s top lobbyist.  Effective January 1, 2012, Azar became President of Lilly USA, LLC, the largest E.L. division, and was responsible for the company’s entire operations in the US. 2  Azar will likely focus on the cost of health care – and how to get more values out of the system – which captured his attention both during his past stint at HHS and while top executive at Eli Lilly. 3   

“I’m just absolutely sure that he would want to continue to drive that,” said Mary Grealy, the head of the Health Care Leadership Council.

1 & 2 – Wikipedia.   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alex_Azar#cite_note-changes-13

The Future of 508

Getting the most health care bang for the buck would be just one of the many ongoing challenges that Azar would face. Accessibility within HHS is another. We anticipate that he will do a great job at both.  With a $1 trillion budget, he has a lot at stake in protecting the accessibility of HHS employees and the public.  To accomplish his goals and stay true to the mission of his agency, Azar will need to closely examine spending and resource allocation across his agency.  A tough task, especially considering federal health care spending is projected to grow from its current 28% of all government spending, excluding interest on the debt, to 40% in 2047. 4 We anticipate Mr. Azar will want to find a way to ensure that Government ICT continues to meet the requirements of the Section 508 Refresh. In an era of diminishing federal budgets, hiring freezes, and other financially conservative measures, this will not be an easy task.  However, as of January 18th,  the Refresh is now the law of the land, and there has been no indication from the new administration that these standards will not be met or enforced.

3 & 4Maureen Groppe, USA Today  Published 11:30 a.m. ET Nov. 13, 2017 / Updated 7:39 p.m. ET Nov. 13, 2017

508 Refresh – Public Comments Closed: Our Contribution

The time for public comments before the US Access Board regarding the 508 Refresh has passed. Word Wizards (WW) submitted our own comments in support of 508 accessible transcripts as a viable alternative to prerecorded material, in order to provide increased access for deaf and hard of hearing, as well as blind and low vision persons. You can find the full text of our public comments to US Access Board via this link.

Graphic for section 508 compliance

508 Transcript as Prerecorded Media Alternative

508 transcripts provide access for people with disabilities, at lower cost and with quicker turnaround time than traditional Closed Captioning (CC) and Audio Description (AD) in some instances. In those instances, they can be deemed as good, or better under the concept of equivalent facilitation, recognized by the existing 508 law and pending 2015 refresh. We intend that they be used by agencies and their video production departments, when the traditional alternatives of CC or AD are either too expensive, or are not feasible for technical reasons.

The Access Board has announced that current accepted international standards will be incorporated by reference into the updated 508 rules. These standards, referred to as WCAG 2.0, specifically mentions media alternatives for prerecorded material, which include 508 compliant transcripts, at section 1.2.3. Here are two case histories where 508 transcripts provided more access for less money than traditional CC or AD.

Case Study No. 1 – Fast and Affordable

In early 2014, a client asked us for help achieving 508 compliance for a video, with a rapid turnaround deadline and a low budget. The client had only two days and a minuscule budget to produce the video and provide access using AD. We suggested a 508 complaint transcript as an alternative. The end product was a fully compliant PDF document, with all nonverbal elements described in the body of the transcript. This PDF was remediated to make it compliant and accessible to screen readers for the Blind and Low Vision people. By including all visual material in the document, we were able to satisfy the requirement of WCAG 2.0 – Section 1.2.3 to convey all visual information.

Road runner cartoon.


The document was produced for half the cost of standard AD, because there is no need for a media specialist to record and mix audio content into the source video. In this case, budget and speed were the client’s priorities -and a 508 compliant transcript did the job twice as fast, at half of the cost.

Case Study No. 2 – Complex Visual Accessibility

In instances of highly complex video content, 508 transcripts provide a level of visual description otherwise impossible with conventional AD. In the summer of 2014, WW used a 508 transcript to assist a client who was working on a high-profile Federal investigation. During this sensitive inquiry, a video presentation was created to summarize the findings of the agency’s investigation. The video was long and visually elaborate, consisting of different camera feeds spliced together, views with multiple screens simultaneously, and an uninterrupted audio track blended from several sources.

classified material.

Given the intricacies of the mixed media, conventional AD was not feasible. The audio content had no pauses, thus making it impossible to place Audio Description content within the existing audio track. At the final stages of this investigation, a concerned family member, who was blind, insisted on receiving an accessible version of the video in order to fully understand what had happened in the case. We suggested a 508 compliant transcript to provide complete accessibility.


As the Access Board prepares to refresh the standards by which Section 508 compliance will be evaluated, we encouraged inclusion of 508 transcripts as a viable option in appropriate circumstances. When budgets are constrained, rapid turnaround is required, and/or visual information is highly complex, 508 transcripts fulfill real and significant needs.

Existing 508 regulations and the pending 2015 Refresh, recognizes the need to reduce undue burden on the agencies by permitting the use of media alternatives which are as good as, or better, than conventional means at achieving accessibility for people with disabilities. These comments were submitted in order to bring our actual experience to the attention of the accessibility and video production communities. As long as the international standards of WCAG 2.0 are incorporated by reference into the 2015 Refresh,  508 compliant transcripts will be included on the list of acceptable media alternatives (for prerecorded content).