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Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What are some good reference books?
A. We maintain a list of Suggested Reading for accessibility, disability, internet accessibility/usability, usability, and technical communication.
Q. What is Section 508?
A. Section 508 requires reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities; program accessibility; effective communication with people who have hearing or vision disabilities; and accessible new construction and alterations. For example, the provisions of Section 508 will ensure that the software procured and used by a Federal agency is compatible with screen reading technology or other technologies that a blind individual could use to access the information. Section 508 requires the provision of interpreting services for deaf, hard of hearing, or deaf-blind Federal employees. For more information and references, see U.S. Government Section 508 Website Accessibility Guidelines in the Internet Accessibility area of focus page.
Q. Do Section 508 guidelines apply to commercial products or websites?
A. Section 508 is specifically for Federal government products and services. This includes contractor's products or services made for the government or under a government contract. It does not apply to purely commercial products or services but it is good practice to implement the accessibility guidelines now to expand your audience. It is easier to include accessibility needs in the beginning of a design rather than retrofit it later when the guidelines do apply to commercial products and services.
Q. Do Section 508 guidelines apply to state governments?
A. From the Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs (ATAP); Unifying State AT Programs. (The ATAP facilitates the coordination of state AT Programs nationally and provides technical assistance and support to its members.) The following is adapted from the article: "Section 508 Information Technology Access: Questions, Answers, and Unknowns for State and Local Entities."
The scope of section 508 is primarily focused on the Federal sector. However, states that receive Federal funds under the Assistive Technology Act (ATA) of 1998 are required by that Act to provide an assurance of compliance with Section 508. Currently all states and territories receive Assistive Technology Act dollars and all have some form of Section 508 assurance. 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.
The Department of Education, the agency responsible for administering the ATA, issued guidance which indicates that states should use the final Access Board standards. However, a number of states and educational entities had already adopted other standards (for example, W3C Web Access Standards). Since these standards are similar, it is unclear what action will be taken to align state adopted standards with the Access Board's standards.
It's unclear if the Access Board standards are appropriate to use in the determination of accessibility of instructional technology, especially teaching and learning media used with young children. Alternative access guidelines, such as those developed by the National Center for Accessible Media, may be more appropriate for educational entities to use, or perhaps the use of a combination of standards may be the most comprehensive way of assuring accessibility of instructional media. Currently, there is no national consensus on access standards for the full range of instructional technology products.
Q. Does Section 508 require that you make something accessible even if you know that you have a controlled user population and some disabilities will be ruled out based on the physical requirements for the job?
A. There is a lengthy answer for this that is on a separate page. See Controlled Populations and Section 508.
Q. What is "technical communication" and how do I become a technical communicator?
A. Technical communicators translate technical information into plain language that is easily understood by the user. They can convey scientific and technical information precisely, accurately, and clearly. Technical communication is recognized as an increasingly essential occupation in business and government. Technical communicators work with scientists and engineers in offices, factories, banks, hospitals, laboratories, from home, and on military bases. They work on a team, by themselves, as staff writers, contractors, and consultants. For more information and references, see the Technical Communication section.
Last modified: 28 November 2022
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