If you haven’t yet heard anyone ask the question “What is Section 508 Compliance,” you likely soon will. Perhaps another one of your coworkers will wonder if your company’s website is compliant and if not, why not. Your company’s or agency’s IT director may send out a memo advising staff of digital compliance guidelines so that the organization can avoid a predatory lawsuit.

The information you might be getting from your coworkers could leave you with more questions. We’re going to answer some of those questions about Section 508 compliance here.

Section 508 is an amendment to the United States Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This federal law mandates that all electronic and information technology “developed, procured, maintained, or used by the federal government” must be accessible to people with disabilities. It’s similar to the federal law that requires public businesses to be accessible to people with disabilities, except this law is based on the digital technology that is in use on websites.

Technology is deemed to be “accessible” if it can be used as effectively by people with disabilities as by those without. In summer of 2018, guidelines are to be expanded for making websites even more accessible than the current guidelines. This is becoming a huge deal.WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and is an internationally accepted set of guidelines for accessible digital content. WCAG is maintained by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the main standards organization for the Internet. Here are the guidelines as of February 2018 in detail: w3.org/tr/wcag21.

If any businesses or government websites claim to be compliant, they better be. Because if they aren’t they are fair game for a lawsuit over not being compliant. Likewise, credit unions and major retailers have been sued in the past couple of years for mega-millions of dollars for not having compliant websites.

What Businesses Need to Have an ADA Compliant Website?

Any business that is considered a “place of public accommodation” is required to provide equal access to services in order to not be considered discriminatory. This includes the websites of retail stores, from small to large. Even big names such as Target are not safe. Target was sued in the mid-2000s for not having an accessible website. Hotels, entertainment sites like movie theaters and playhouses, legal and accounting firms, credit unions and banks and virtually every business that is not a private entity must be compliant. This is true even for businesses that do not have an accessible brick-and-mortar location.

Any business, large or small, in the government sector or not, is now at risk of a lawsuit over not having an accessible website. It’s happening repeatedly and businesses are paying huge sums of money to hire lawyers and ADA compliance specialists and consultants to tell them what they need to do to be compliant, followed by hiring website developers to implement the ADA compliance regimens. Often, small businesses end up paying extra sums to have the Section 508 Compliance implemented on a rush timeline. It can take weeks or even months for a large site to become compliant, so start now if you believe that your website is not compliant. And believe us, most are not.