FAQ: Controlled Populations and Section 508

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FAQ, Continued

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. If the controlled population involves a U.S. Federal agency, whether that agency employs people with disabilities or not, Section 508 compliance is required to meet the Requirements for Accessible Electronic and Information Technology (E&IT). The law is a Government Services (GSA) procurement mandate.
The Access Board states, "The law applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology." The law relates to both IT created and procured (such as commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) products). There are some exceptions, but they are minimal (for example, cryptographic software) and don't relate to IT used in offices and businesses.
When analyzing your user population, consider the following questions.

  • How do you know the needs of future members of the group (future employees, users)?
  • What happens if a current user becomes disabled (car accident, sight loss, issues of age, etc.)?
  • What happens if there is an expansion of how and by whom your applications are used?
The need for software accessibility is not limited to just the outwardly apparent disabilities such as blindness, deafness, or mobility concerns. Disabilities are defined to include conditions such as color-blindness, glaucoma, carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, difficulty with reach or manipulation, chronic pain, tremor, lack of sensation, speech disabilities, reading or sequencing disabilities, learning or cognitive disabilities, fibromyalgia, diabetes, and epilepsy, to name a few. Many times, you won't know a user is disabled because he or she must disclose a "hidden disability" to you, which potentially opens up employment and insurance issues (they shouldn't, by law, but this is the real world). Studies show a minimum of 12-15% of the population is disabled, and some valid estimates range as high as 40% when all disabilities are included.
For consulting firms, the Section 508 burden lies with the U.S. Federal agency, not with the consultant. This means that a consultant providing services to a U.S. Federal agency may or may not be required to deliver Section 508-compliant deliverables.

If the U.S. Federal agency chooses to carry the Section 508 burden, the consultant documents this in their project file. The consultant then proceeds with the project in accordance with all generally accepted standards and requirements (XHTML 1.0, e.g.). The consultant states in the cover letter for the deliverable that by agreement the agency is bearing the burden for Section 508. The agency may choose a number of options for meeting the Section 508 requirement, up to providing a telephone number for assistance.

A Federal agency may take on the responsibility for meeting Section 508 when they have a person on staff who has the experience to make the product compliant with Section 508, and automated tools to do the work. By assuming the burden for the Section 508 work, the agency saves money and ensures the continued employment of a coworker.

Last modified: 28 November 2022
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