Not a State of compliance

Country Map of the United States made up of License Plates

State map of USA © by Kevin Hutchinson

In a previous post, I wrote about the lack of accessibility of images. Unfortunately, I also sort of alluded to the idea that State and local governments are required to follow Section 508 compliance. They are not.

There are a lot of web sites out there that provide insight on to what Section 508 covers and who is responsible to follow it. Much of it comes from private places, educational sites, and even government sites. The problem with many of these sources is that the information isn’t always correct, accurate or even useful. This has caused me with some confusion about the accessibility laws for web sites under State and Local government jurisdiction. This post is meant to be a clarification (and ultimately a CYA for previous posts here) of that conversation.

First, the Overview of Proposed Section 508 Standards provided by the Access Board states “The scope of section 508 is limited to the Federal sector. It does not apply to the private sector, nor does section 508 impose requirements on the recipients of Federal funds.” It goes on to mention that ‘States receiving assistance under the AT Act State Grant program … comply with section 508′. It seems as though the law is saying, ‘This law does not apply to State and Local Governments and does not impose anything on recipients of federal funds, unless they receive funding under a separate thing in which case the law does apply’This memo from the Department of Justicestates “The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and, if the government entities receive Federal funding, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, generally require that State and local governments provide qualified individuals with disabilities equal access to their programs, services, or activities.”

Secondly, since Section 508 is a section of the Rehabilitation Act, wouldn’t that mean that States need to comply with Section 508? I found this link about Section 508 and libraries that says, “Since all 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, are recipients of federal funds under the AT (Assistive Technology) Act, Section 508 binds them all, along with recipients of federal funds passed along through these jurisdictions.”

It seems as though the law is saying, “This law does not apply to State and Local Governments and does not impose anything on recipients of federal funds, unless they receive funding under a separate grant and so therefore the law does apply.” However, after receiving feedback from people and further research on the clarification of these sites, I gather that State governments are only required to comply with Section 508 if the purposeof the project is paid for by the Assistive Technology act. Further, only the project itself is covered by the rules of Section 508.

On the other hand, the AT Act only tells recipients that they are required to state they are compliant. As someone pointed out to me, “The requirement that things be ‘accessible’ does not automatically mean that any specific standard or metric be used, and that gap means enforcement is weak or absent:”

These state Section 508 assurances most frequently take the form of a simple assurance statement with limited or no specifics regarding implementation...There is no definition of "state" for the assurance and thus there is no clear delineation of who is covered. Those most questionable include agencies that are closely related to state government but might not necessarily be considered the "state" such as colleges and universities, local government and municipalities, local school districts, and other entities that have significant state and local funding. – State of Missouri Assistive Technology Department
It’s only a matter of time however

The need for state and local government to address some sort of standard of accessibility is something the government is thinking about. Within the last year, the government posted a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM). The title of which is actually pretty self-explanatory: Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability; Accessibility of Web Services of State and Local Government Entities and Public Accommodations. In essence, the government wants to place web accessibility under the Americans Disability Act. This would affect State and Local Governments, as well as facilities that fall within at least one of 12 categories which include certain places of lodging; restaurants and bars; movie theaters, concert halls and other exhibition or entertainment locations; certain places of public gathering like auditoriums; service establishments such as beauty shops, gas stations and dry cleaners; private schools and day care centers; and exercise or recreation centers like gyms or bowling alleys. For a full list, and to read the proposed law in it’s entirety, please check out the Federal Register.

This is very important stuff here, and is certain to have an impact should this be put into place. As someone who specializes in creating accessible documentation, I will definitely be keeping an eye on this development.