ADA and 508 Accessibility: Comparing Two Standards

Both Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (508) and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are made up of laws and guidelines requiring information to be made available to all members of the public, regardless of sensory disabilities. Closed Captioning (CC),  Audio Description (AD), and accessible digital publication technology (508 remediation), are the gold standard for providing media that is fully accessible and compliant with both these regulatory standards.

Section 508


508 compliance logo.


508 requires that accommodations be made for government employees and members of the public with disabilities who wish to access Government Information and Communications Technology (ICT), including Government websites and multimedia. 508 compliance is overseen by the U. S. Access Board, an independent agency under HHS, which promotes equality for people with disabilities through leadership in accessible design and the development of accessibility guidelines and standards. During 2015 the Access Board has conducted requests for public comments related to the accessibility rules and guidelines in their efforts to institute a “508 refresh” or update to the 508 accessibility requirements. Word Wizards has submitted comments, including our revelations about new ways to achieve accessibility of ICT through the use of 508 Compliant Transcripts.

Read more about our comments here

The Americans with Disabilities Act


ADA 25 years logo


Signed into law 25 years ago by President George H.W. Bush, the ADA derives authority from the primary Federal civil rights law, the Commerce Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and as such is overseen by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. The ADA is a broader application of accessibility standards to influence commercial and social practices related to persons with disabilities. Title III of the ADA requires that businesses, state and local governments and nonprofit services providers make accommodations for the disabled public to access the same services as patrons who are not disabled. Movie theaters, digital media, websites, and ICT are required to be accessible to people with disabilities.

Evolving standards

In one recent case (NAD v Netflix) the Western Mass. Circuit Court held that even though Netflix was based solely on the internet, they had to offer captioned movies for their “watch instantly” streaming service, because they were dominant in interstate commerce, with 60% of the available market. That case was settled out of court with Netflix agreeing to caption everything going forward. However another jurisdiction, the federal appeals court (9th Circuit), ruled in a class action suit that the ADA doesn’t apply to Netflix, since the online video provider is, “not connected to any actual, physical place.” Never-the-less, the trend is towards more accessibility in services offered to the public rather than less, including film and video.


Accesibility graphic, keyboard with blue "Access" key.

Comparing 508 and ADA

Ultimately, ADA protects the civil rights of persons with disabilities participating in interstate commerce; whereas Section 508 is a set of regulations related to access to Government ICT. 508 compliance provides accessibility for digitally published material within government agencies and entities. ADA standards apply broadly to society, commerce, and government as a whole. A comparison of 508 and ADA regulations reveals a trend of increasing complexity of accessible media technology. Word Wizards mission is to serve the needs of an evolving industry as the number of people with sensory disabilities in our society continues to grow.

Public Comments to Access Board: 508 Refresh

US Access Board Logo


Duff Johnson, Executive Director of the PDF Association recently spoke before the U.S. Access Board regarding the upcoming refresh of the 508 accessibility rules.  The proposed changes include adherence to WCAG 2.0 for all media types and additional conformance to other guidelines based on media type, such as the PDF/UA-1 guidelines for all PDF documents.

PDF/UA Recommended

Johnson recommended to the Board that PDF accessibility be judged primarily on PDF/UA standards, since WCAG 2.0 mostly concerns web content; for anything not usually found in static PDFs, such as Javascript or audiovisual content, WCAG 2.0 could then be consulted.  In contrast to WCAG 2.0, PDF/UA standards are based solely on PDF documents and go into more detail on making these accessible. Furthermore, the PDF Association formulated the Matterhorn protocol to create a functioning checklist that will definitely answer whether a document can be considered accessible, whereas WCAG does not offer such a definitive answer.

Protocol for Accessibility

If you’re trying to make a standard PDF accessible, WCAG 2.0 requires that the content include adequate contrast, be read in a logical order, and that all non-text items have alternate text available.

Broad Criteria

Johnson also recommends that accessibility of PDFs be judged by PDF/UA in general, rather than restricting this to PDF/UA 1. The upcoming PDF 2.0 will offer new structures and tags to help make content more accessible, which PDF/UA 2 will then address. Word Wizards encourages this broad stroke approach to 508 regulation because we know it allows for maximum flexibility providing accessible solutions for persons with disabilities.

Support New Technology

The endorsement of PDF/UA standards and WCAG 2.0 by major industry players further supports the viability of our new 508 transcription services. 508 transcripts provide accessibility for video productions using section 508 compliant PDF documents. These documents are in compliance with the standards of PDF/UA and are suggested by WCAG 2.0 as an alternative for video content accessibility requirements. When WCAG 2.0 is adopted by the US Access Board, 508 transcripts are poised to satisfy the requirements of many agencies who lack the resources and funding to provide more expensive alternatives such as audio description.

508 Refresh is Underway

The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) is currently working to revise the standards for Section 508 accessibility. This revision is being called the 2015 Section 508 Refresh.

US Access Board Logo


Since the last revision (in 2000), technological advances have increased exponentially – going from voice-only devices to smartphones, for example. Therefore, the Access Board finds it appropriate to update the standards to achieve a higher level of accessibility with current technology, and prepare for advances in the future. Additionally, the Access Board plans to update the guidelines in conjunction with current international standards to increase the availability of accessible information.

Two hearings have already been held regarding the changes, on March 5 in San Diego, CA, and March 11 in Washington, DC.

New Rules for Accessibility Standards:

There are four expected changes for Section 508:

  • Would draw from the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 in order to have a singular set of standards for websites, software, and digital documents (such as PDF).
  • Greater specificity for the scope of which federal documents are accessible (largely public-facing)
  • Greater specificity for how assistive technology interacts with current software, etc.
  • Include real-time text (gives each character as it’s being typed) whenever there is real-time vocal communication.

More information can be found in the 2015 Refresh Executive Summary.

Submission of comments for the Refresh:

The Access Board is currently accepting public comments on the refresh, which will be displayed on their site and may change some of the revisions. We intend to submit comments to share our findings for media alternatives for A/V content, and for best practices.

Comments can be submitted either through the post or electronically, and be in by May 28th. If you also have comments to share with the Access Board for the refresh, information on how to contact them can be found below:

  • Mail: Office of Technical and Information Services, Access Board, 1331 F Street NW, Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20004-1111.
  • Fax:  202-272-0081
  • Electronic submission: Federal eRulemaking Portal:
    • Enter the ID for this docket into the search bar: ATBCB-2015-0002.
    • Click “Comment Now!” next to the link titled: Information and Communication Technology Standards and Guidelines (or just click here!)
    • Enter any comments you want to make, attach them as a file, and enter any necessary information
    • Once complete, you’ll get a Comment Tracking Number for your comment
  • E-mail: Include docket number ATBCB-2015-0002 in the subject line of the message.

Section 508 Compliance Survey

Last week at the 2012 IDEAS conference, Word Wizards conducted a survey to get a better understanding of what the experts think about the difference between compliance and accessibility. We invite you to participate in this survey and share your opinion about this hot ticket issue. Once all of the results are in, we will publish our findings on this blog for everyone to look at. The goal of this survey is to establish a certain consensus about important issues when making PDF documents accessible and compliant with the section 508 law. Word Wizards would like to extend our thanks to all those we met last week and everyone who made the 2012 IDEAS conference a fully accessible success.

Our booth at IDEAS with poster about section 508 compliance and conference materials.
Word Wizards' Booth at 2012 IDEAS

IDEAS Accessibility Conference – Recap

Logo for the Interagency Disability Educational Awareness Showcase (IDEAS) in Washington DC hosted by USDA
Interagency Disability Educational Awareness Showcase Logo

On behalf of Word Wizards, Inc. I would like to thank our friends at USDA for hosting this year’s Interagency Disability Educational Awareness Showcase. It was our first year attending as an exhibitor and we took full advantage of this opportunity to demonstrate our accessibility services. The focus of our exhibit took the form of a simple question that yielded not so simple answers, “Is there a difference between compliance and accessibility?”

Word Wizards Table at the 2012 IDEAS Conference
Word Wizards Table at the 2012 IDEAS Conference

The following individuals gave presentations this year at the conference:

Kareem Dale, Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy
Dinah Cohen, Director, Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP), U.S. Department of Defense
David M. Capozzi, Executive Director, U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board).
Tim Creagan, Senior Accessibility Specialist, U.S. Access Board.
Alison S. Levy, Departmental Disability Employment Program Manager, U.S. Department of Agriculture

We were delighted to share the floor with our fellow accessibility vendors and do some valuable networking with our peers, friendly competitors, and section 508 coordinators. IDEAS is the perfect opportunity to see whats on the forefront of accessibility services and technology. Section 508 compliance regulations may soon be getting a facelift, as agencies attempt to standardize compliance policy across the Federal space.

IDEAS conference floor as vendors 508 coordinators and interested individuals check out the available displays.
Floor of the 2012 IDEAS conference

Section 508 compliance is more than just another service for our organization, it is a critical aspect of our mission to provide more access for disabled individuals on the internet. We look forward to analyzing the results of our compliance vs accessibility survey and publishing them for all to review. Remember, the business of section 508 compliance and all disabilities services is about people, real people with real problems need real solutions, bottom line.