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Web AccessiBlog > Government requirements

Updated 2002.10.12

Government requirements

Most items refer to the U.S. government.

Does the ADA apply to Web sites?

  1. Yes, according to a 1996 Department of Justice opinion (2001.03.07)
  2. It oughtn’t, according to Walter Olson: “If it’s easy for entrepreneurial litigators to stroll down the main street of a town and find stores vulnerable to an ADA suit because their water fountain or pay phone is at the wrong height, it’s even easier for them to surf the Web and find sites that flunk the most widely accepted disability guidelines. Assuming a court can be found with proper jurisdiction over them, the next logical step is the filing of accessibility complaints by the cartload” (2001.03.07)
  3. It should, according to a statement and testimony by Judy Brewer and others before the U.S. House Subcommittee on the Constitution (rebutted by – you guessed it! – Walter Olson; 2001.03.07)
  4. Yes, according to Cynthia Waddell’s presentation to the American Bar Association (confusing as hell, in part due to HTML coding; 2001.03.07)
  5. One inconclusive case: Hooks v. OKBridge, Inc. (2002.10.12)


  1. WhiteHouse.Gov aims for full PDF accessibility – but misses: “Regarding the current administration’s claim of full PDF accessibility, our examination shows it not to be true at this time. For the most part we tried to focus on PDFs that were directly related to presidential initiatives and not created by a different agency” (2002.10.12)
  2. Is PDF accessible?: Concise and not very detailed, but accurate (2002.10.12)
  3. PDF and Public Documents: A White Paper: “While we applaud Adobe’s efforts to make Portable Document Format (PDF) more accessible, the limitations of existing practices and technological capabilities available to end-users who are blind or otherwise print disabled render documents and forms in PDF inaccessible to many members of the public. This white paper explains the problems that surround the use of PDF documents and forms in light of the Section 508 standards and draws the conclusion that alternative, accessible formats must always accompany PDF versions of information and data that are made available to the public” (2002.10.12)
  4. “Talking” Tax Forms for Blind Developed: “The new IRS forms, which the IRS plans to post on its Web site next year, use pioneering software that allows the standard talking text services to read forms stored in PDF” (2002.10.12)

Media coverage
of government requirements

  1. Federal regulations mandate improvement, but progress is slow: “Not so the virtual world of computers. Mention the possibility of a barrier-free Internet and many still draw a collective blank. Lack of awareness among Web designers – not technical shortcomings – remains the biggest hurdle to freer participation by all” (2002.10.12)
  2. Accessibility and Legislation in Higher Education (U.K.): “The recent history of accessibility across UK society shows a clear increase in the use of legislation to prevent discrimination. Equal Opportunities began to play a key role, and in 1995 the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was passed. This was followed by the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998. Yet, despite this, education in the UK was exempted from the Disability Discrimination Act, with some arguing that academic standards would be lowered if institutions were ‘forced’ to admit students with disabilities.... So what does the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act mean for the UK Higher Education community?” (2002.04.15)
  3. Confusion Reigns Over Accessibility Compliance: “Confusion over a law requiring that agency computer systems be usable by people with disabilities is leading some federal offices to consider shutting down Web sites that do not comply” (2002.02.17)
  4. Alert: Section 508 web accessibility now a federal law!: “Web design at Federal departments and agencies just got orders of magnitude more complex.... many small and medium sized technology providers were caught off-guard by the regulations that were still being introduced and explained just a few months and weeks before the June 21, 2001 implementation date. In addition, some complain that while there is a long, complex list of standards (some more specific than others), there is no certification body to approve products that meet Section 508 requirements.” True enough, but accessible design is not ten times harder than inaccessible, and in fact the universe had 2½ years’ warning that the 508 requirements were coming (2001.09.22)
  5. New law puts high-tech spin on disabled access: “All federal government Web sites must be configured so persons with disabilities can use them” (2001.09.22)
  6. A More Accessible Web: “An economic slowdown doesn’t seem like the best time to launch a new product. But Arlington-based Crunchy Technologies Inc. is doing brisk business on its new $699 software package, shipping almost 4,000 units since introducing it four months ago. The impetus for the sales is a new federal requirement that government agencies make their Web sites accessible to the disabled” (2001.09.22)
  7. Making Federal Web Sites Friendly to Disabled Users: “ The goal of improved accessibility is beyond dispute. Yet as federal Webmasters re-examine what they put online to meet the requirements, they are likely to suppress their appetite for the attention-grabbing visuals known as eye candy and multimedia treats like animated graphics. ‘In the short run, there’ll be a degree of conservatism’... meaning that the government’s 30 million pages may start to recall the Web sites of 1994, when text and graphics were nearly all that could be found online” (2001.09.22)
  8. Designing for diversity: “Accessibility is not the sexiest of Web-related issues. To those of us uninvolved in discussions on the subject, accessibility seems a rather worthy, earnest sort of topic, one beloved of a few techies who want to change the world using their programming skills. Well, accessibility is a worthy issue but it is also one that is becoming increasingly mainstream. The U.S. government now requires all government agencies to have Web sites that can be used easily by blind people or those with other disabilities that make it difficult to browse the Internet in the usual way” (2001.09.22)
  9. The Magic 508 Ball: “It’s a cardboard 12-sided figure (dodecahedron) whose sides are covered with all the Section 508 regulations. That’s right – everything from 1194.21 in Subpart B to 1194.41 in Subpart D! What a value!” (2001.07.02)
  10. Making Uncle Sam Accessible – and Accountable: “Sound ambitious? It is. Section 508 is far-reaching piece of legislation intended to generate a ripple effect that will spread throughout the public and private sectors. The idea is to make vendors think about building accessibility into all their products, for both government and commercial use. The upshot: I believe that by 2010 accessible products will have become mainstream. A new cottage industry around accessibility will flourish. People with disabilities and knowledge of accessibility will do the training” (2001.07.02)
  11. A Chat with Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer: “Making accessible to all people is a priority. We continue our efforts to implement common Web accessibility techniques to ensure that all parts of are accessible” (2001.07.02)
  12. Web site accessibility goes mainstream: “ ‘When the government says you need to build technology a certain way, for vendors like ourselves that’s a very compelling maxim.... We need to build products that can be sold to the government. It’s not very practical for us to build multiple versions of our products’ ” (2001.07.02)
  13. Disabled access to technology probed: “ ‘We talk to both government agencies and private-sector people who have been building these Web pages for years and have no idea how big they are... Most people I talk to really have no idea what kind of project they have ahead of them’ ” (2001.07.02)
  14. TARGET focuses on 508 training for Webmasters: “Katherine Richardson expected a few people for the Web accessibility training classes the Agriculture Departments TARGET Center arranged for department Webmasters. But when a standing-room-only crowd mobbed the Washington center to learn how to make Web sites operable for disabled users, she had to turn away some technophiles” (2001.06.03)
  15. Feds Raise Bar for Disabled: “Confusion over how the law applies to government Web sites is also widespread. Because it covers all electronic technology and information that is ‘used’ or ‘maintained’ by the government, the law clearly applies to the Web. But the section on enforcement – the teeth of the law – refers only to technology ‘procured’ after the deadline. The Justice Department has ruled this means that existing Web sitesdon’t need to be retrofitted to meet the new standards. But whether the enforcement provisions apply to all Web sitesor just those procured – produced using outside contractors – remains unclear” (2001.05.30)
  16. GSA sounds false 508 alarm: “An April 10 memo labeled ‘urgent’ instructed Web managers at the General Services Administration to begin deleting Internet files that do not meet new accessibility standards. Web sites that fail to meet the standards ‘will go dark’ after June 14.... Another worker called it ‘Orwellian logic’ to delete files that are inaccessible to some, thus making them inaccessible to all. An e-mail alarm spread through GSA and beyond, advising that as many as 30,000 Web pages might be headed toward oblivion. GSA is not instructing its Web managers to delete documents to comply with the new accessibility requirements.... Sindelar said documents are to be deleted for routine housekeeping. ‘We are going to take the next two weeks cleaning out old, unused pages,’ he said in an interview about 3 p.m. April 12. At 3:32 p.m., Sindelar sent an E-mail to computer network users in the Office of Governmentwide Policy directing that ‘no one is to talk to the press on 508 (or any other subject) without notifying the Office of Communications first’ ” (2001.05.18)
  17. Adapting systems for the disabled isnt as tough as you think: “By the hundred, government World Wide Web page designers troop into an auditorium at the General Services Administration for a crash course on accessibility.... If agencies fail, one Web page designer explained, ‘They will have the opportunity to be sued by the public....’ The job may seem daunting at first. ‘I’ve heard some Webmasters say will need to take out liability insurance, or that they plan to take their Web sites down altogether. That’s outrageous.... It’s not that hard” (2001.05.18)
  18. The myths of Section 508 accessibility: Vaguely wishy-washy, underresearched bromides; unreassuringly nominates Alertbox and one of my pages as exemplars of good design. As if! (2001.05.18)
    1. See also: Common Myths About Web Accessibility
  19. Navy Intranet Regroups to Assure Accessibility: Even the Navy has to retrofit. “Turner said the need for assistive technology was overlooked despite surveys his office made of 44 major Navy organizations about their technology requirements” (2001.05.18)
  20. Computer Accessibility Price: $700 Million: The price tag listed seems rather inflated, and is unsupported by evidence. “The standards would apply only to electronic and information technology procured on or after Aug. 7 and would not specifically require agencies to retrofit old technology.... However, agencies might have to acquire such technology to meet existing laws that require employers to accommodate employees with disabilities.... One issue that Yanchulis expects will raise concerns addresses the use of multimedia presentations, such as slide presentations or videotaped demonstrations. Under the proposed standards, such productions would have to include captions or narrated descriptions of visual components if they were to be shown repeatedly to various audiences. The guidelines were mandated under 1998 amendments to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973” (2001.05.18)
  21. Accessibilty aids on display: “Hewlett-Packard Co. announced a companywide policy Tuesday to ensure that its products and services are accessible to people with disabilities in accordance with amendments to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act” (2001.04.16)
  22. Feds push to close accessibility loophole: “The ‘micro-purchase exemption,’ one of the loopholes to compliance with new federal accessibility standards, is likely to be phased out” (2001.04.16)
  23. Breaking the Access Barrier: Surprisingly wide-ranging story documenting up-to-date, realistic experience. “Missouri learned the value of [objective] standards soon after the release of Microsoft’s Windows 95 software, when former state CIO Mike Benzen refused to purchase the popular software package until a compatible screen-reader application became available. A marginally acceptable product appeared some five months later.... ‘State agencies were calling me all the time asking me why on earth they couldn’t buy this thing. That just drove home to us that we weren’t gong to be able to stand on a no-buy decision very long without some really clear, verifiable standards” (2001.02.14)
  24. The Word on Access: Marginally useful set of interviews on adaptive technology, who tell us all the usual things – access is poorly understood but usually inexpensive; attitudes are a problem (2001.02.14)
  25. Enabling Technology: A de facto profile of Cynthia Waddell, with the standard intro to adaptive technology (2001.02.14)
  26. Web Accessibility Ripples Through IT: Overview of how vendors are dealing with Section 508 requirements. Repeats the now-standard shibboleth that accessible Web design is functionally equivalent to designing for PDAs and the like. One noteworthy detail, if true: “IBM has created separate accessibility tools, such as screen-reading applications, but he said those applications will eventually be merged into mainstream IBM offerings such as the WebSphere application server.” Also a related editorial (2001.02.14)
  27. Accessibility: the Politics of Design: “ ‘Covered entities that use the Internet for communications regarding their programs, goods, or services must be prepared to offer those communications through accessible means as well.’ Accessibility is going to be the top priority for every [U.S.] Federal government webmaster in the new millennium. State and local governments that do not already have rules for Web sites will be adopting them real soon. If your clients provide accessibility in the brick and mortar world, are they really going to want to do less on the Web? Are you going to want to do less?” (2001.01.11)
  28. Accessibility: the Clock is Ticking (Alan Herrell; 2001.01.12): “ ‘But I don’t work for the government,’ you cry! Probably true. But the impact of these regulations will extend far beyond the .gov domain. If you work for a university or other .edu that takes federal grants and has a Web site, surprise! It’s gonna be your day in the barrel too” (2001.01.11)
  29. Fed Opens Web to Disabled: “Some legal experts believe that these new government accessibility guidelines will soon be extended to include all private commercial sites. ...[T]he Justice Department has already indicated that the Americans with Disabilities Act does apply to all Web sites– both government and commercial” (2001.01.11)
  30. Quick tips for accessible Web sites: Says little that’s new and provides no details of how to implement its recommendations (2001.01.11)
  31. Governments realize making systems accessible is critical – and doable: “Officials in Connecticut, California, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, New York and Maine are among those addressing accessibility; several of them have issued statewide policies requiring accessible sites. In August, North Carolina announced Web content accessibility guidelines as part of a statewide technical architecture” (2001.01.11)
  32. Adapting systems for the disabled isn’t as tough as you think: “Section 508 standards will become part of the Federal Acquisition Regulation and other federal laws that govern agency buying. Simply put, companies that fail to create software and hardware that meet accessibility standards will no longer be able to sell to federal agencies.” Tremendously detailed and wide-ranging article (2001.01.11)
  33. 13 rules for accessible Web pages: Uselessly vague (2001.01.11)
  34. To sue or not to sue: You can sue under Section 508 in the U.S., but “ ‘declaratory and injunctive relief’ are the laws’ main payoff. That means if an agency is found not to have complied with Section 508 accessibility standards, a judge may order it to come into compliance” (2001.01.11)
  35. The Web, accessibility and “undue burden”: Discusses details of the “undue burden” rationale for failing to implement accessibility (though not in extreme legalistic detail – just enough to give conversational familiarity with the terminology; 2001.01.11)
  36. Industry tackles 508 regs: Nonspecific coverage of complaints from one industry group (2001.01.11)


  1. Clinton pledges funds for Net accessibility research: “The president is earmarking $9 million in grants to support 1,200 AmeriCorps volunteer projects that help people with disabilities. Clinton also announced $16 million in grants from the Department of Education’s National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research to be used in various programs to promote the accessible information technology through research and loan programs” (though absolutely nothing along these lines can be found at AmeriCorps or after extensive Web searches; 2001.03.07)

Analyses and audits

  1. Institutional Web Sites and Legislation: “In many states across the world, anti-disability discrimination legislation has provided the acorn of an argument that service providers should provide their Web presence in a form that is accessible to the disabled community. However, like the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), and its associated guidelines, the providers, and indeed the designers, of the majority of Web sites have by and large ignored these arguments” (2002.10.12)
  2. A Defence of Plain HTML for Law: AustLII’s Approach to Standards: “With its public access objective, [Australasian Legal Information Institute] is very concerned with accessibility and usability issues. Web technologies such as the use of frames, portable document format (PDF) files, and images are discussed based on AustLII’s notions of accessibility and usability. Some considerations are also made in relation to general web standards as well as legal specific standards” (2001.07.02)
  3. Accessibility & Usability for E-Government (Ireland; 2001.01.11)


  1. Alphabet soup: A web designer’s journey to standards and accessibility: “While I was a minor advocate of Jakob Nielsen’s usability initiative, the accessibility guidelines for Connecticut were actual requirements” (2002.10.12)
  2. Web Accessibility and the [Disability Discrimination Act, U.K.]: Article more or less proving that this U.K. legislation manifestly applies to the Web (2001.07.02)
  3. Some Human Judgements Required for Section 508 Evaluation: Not a lot of detail, but a unique and valuable checklist. Works poorly with images turned off – alt text of “Person thinking” gets in the way (2001.05.18)
  4. An Overview of Law and Policy for IT Accessibility: Solid overview; little new for the cognoscenti; well-organized (2001.05.18)
  5. Comments on... Information Technology Accessibility Standards (from Pennsylvania): Makes a good point about mobility-impaired users: “a computer display with many elements may require the user to navigate one element at a time by pressing the Tab key.... Yahoo... has 200 links on its home page. If it takes a person 2 seconds to activate a key – not uncommon for people with severe motor disabilities – it would take more than six minutes to reach a link at the bottom of the page. This lengthy and likely exhausting procedure is clearly inconsistent with the Section 508 requirement of access.” How many more years will we wait before browser makers number links, as Lynx already does? Problem solved (2001.02.14)

Texts of worldwide government requirements

  1. Guides and lists:
  2. European Union (EU):
    1. Diffuse Guide to Web Accessibility and Design for All: Project funded under the European Commission’s 5th Framework IST Program (2002.10.12)
    2. Information Society, eEurope 2002: Accessibility of Public Web Sites and Their Content for Disabled People: “The European Parliament... reiterated the need to avoid any from of exclusion from society and therefore form the information society, and called for the integration of the elderly and disabled in particular. Parliament felt that the WAI initiative, which is voluntary in nature, should be strengthened to require, on a mandatory basis, all public websites of EU institutions and the Member States to be fully accessible to disabled people by 2003. It called for compliance with the authoring tools accessibility guidelines (ATAG) 1.0 by 2003 in order to ensure that disabled people can read and manage the content of Web pages” (2002.10.12)
  3. Germany: Entwurf eines Gesetzes zur Gleichstellung behinderter Menschen (proposed; may not have been implemented as of 2002.04.15)
  4. New Zealand:
    1. Web Guidelines Version 1.0: Apparently the final version of “guidelines for the management and design of New Zealand public-sector Websites” (2002.02.17)
    2. New Zealand E-Government Program Web Guidelines: “During 2000, the Government Information Managers’ Forum, through the Web developers support forum, developed a submission document proposing guidelines for New Zealand government Web sites” (2002.02.17)
    3. These design guidelines may or may not be the same thing (2002.10.12)
  5. U.K.: Guidelines for UK Government Web Sites v1.0; see the accessibility page (2002.10.12)
    1. See also: New Guidelines in the UK: “Incidentally, the new draft of the Code of Practice that accompanies the Disability Discrimination Act in the UK (and tries to shed light on what all this legal nonsense means) was officially published... This new Code expressly includes a reference to a Web site as an online service (in this case an online booking site for an airline)” (2002.04.15)
  6. Ireland:
    1. Irish IT Accessibility Guidelines: Accessibility Guidelines for Web (2002.10.12)
    2. Accessibility Guidelines for Web: Irish National Disability Authority IT Accessibility Guidelines. Unofficial, apparently (2002.10.12)
  7. Australia: Aus. Standards for Accessible Web Design: Located on a New South Wales government server, this piece may not actually apply to the entire Australian federal government. This document also uses “spacer image” as an alt text and uses typographic bullets instead of an HTML list. Nice (2001.05.18)
  8. See also: Internet industry body releases Web accessibility plan: “The Internet Industry Association has released its Accessible Web Action Plan which encourages Web accessibility awareness and helps members develop and maintain accessible websites, a media release says” (2002.10.12)
  9. The foregoing refers to IIA Digital Bridge VT (2002.10.12)
  10. Canada:
    1. Accessibility Laws in Canada: In truth, merely human-rights laws in Canada (2002.06.10)
    2. Canadian “common look and feel” guidelines (2001.01.17)
  11. Portugal: Web accessibility in Europe: The Portuguese case: “Accessibility is one of the most discussed and important topics as regards the Internet today. Everyone from designers to gurus, from readers to programmers, has an opinion on it. Even governments worldwide have something to say and provide developers with legislation on it. Is this good? I think so, as long as we adhere to the standards and use that magic gift called common sense. Portugal was a pioneer in Web accessibility guidelines. Below is a summary of my research on the subject” (2002.10.12)

Section 508
(U.S. federal government)

  1. Feds doing elementary E-gov: “The San Francisco State University survey showed that 87 percent of federal Web sites still fail to meet accessibility standards despite being required by law for the past 14 months” (2002.10.12)
  2. Section 508 revisions considered: “A year after Section 508 took effect, two councils that oversee government procurement regulations are asking whether the law needs to be changed. In particular, the councils want to know whether the law would benefit from a clause that spells out the legal obligations – and limits to legal obligations – of vendors who sell electronic and information technology to government agencies.” See call for comments, though deadline is long past (2002.10.12)
  3. Confusion Reigns Over Accessibility Compliance: “Confusion over a law requiring that agency computer systems be usable by people with disabilities is leading some federal offices to consider shutting down Web sites that do not comply,” which is beyond ridiculous, extreme, paranoiac, and drama-queeny (2002.10.12)
  4. Five site-accessibility tips to help comply with Section 508 (2002.06.10)
  5. Assistive technology helps with data management word processing and other task, users say: “Agency managers have found bonus capabilities in the compliance software they bought last year to meet Section 508 accessibility deadlines. Several related their experiences this month at the opening of the General Services Administration’s Assistive Technology Showcase” (2002.06.10)
  6. NWS Section 508 Web Tools Guide: “The reference below is for documents that provide web authors technical guidance for meeting Section 508 standards. These guides not only apply to Section 508, but lead to effective Web-design techniques. By following these guidelines, the resulting web pages are more universally usable and will operate on more platforms, such as a cellphone Internet browser” (2002.06.10)
  7. Feds pin 508 rules on vendors: “Since June, the law has required that federal agencies buy office technology usable by people with disabilities. But instead of complying with the law, agency procurement officials have devised a number of ploys to shift that responsibility to product vendors, a Virginia congressman charges” (2002.06.10)
  8. What You Need to Know About Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (Taymour Ravandi, Protection & Advocacy, Inc.2002.04.15)
  9. About the Accessibility Forum: “Bringing accessibility stakeholders together to support informed decisions about E&IT products relative to Section 508” (2002.02.17)
  10. NCI Web Accessibility and 508 Compliance Initiative: National Cancer Institute how-to pages (2001.09.26)
  11. Main page:
  12. Section 508 final standards
  13. Discussion of comments received on Section 508 Web accessibility (very big file, but it clarifies a lot of issues)
  14. NIEHS Intro to Section 508: Making Your Web Site Compliant. Still pretty technical (2001.03.26)
  15. Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards; Proposed Rule

U.S. state documents

  1. Illinois requirements (PDF; 2002.04.15)
  2. Connecticut:
    1. 2001 requirements (2001.01.11)
    2. State of Connecticut Universal Website Accessibility Policy (2002.04.15)
    3. Connecticut to Enforce Accessibility Guidelines: “In a recent notice to consultants, the state’s Department of Information Technology announced that all consultants will be required to take Web-site accessibility training ‘in accordance with the state guidelines for achieving universal accessibility.’ The guidelines will be used in the creation of any state Web site” (2002.06.10)
  3. Kansas:
    1. Priorities (2001.09.22)
    2. Requirements (2001.01.11
    3. Implementation advice (2001.01.11)
    4. Compilation of other state resources (2001.05.18)
  4. Kentucky templates (2002.10.12)
  5. Maine requirements (2001.05.18)
  6. Massachusetts requirements (2001.05.18)
  7. New York requirements (2001.05.18)
  8. North Carolina requirements (2001.05.18)
  9. Texas requirements:
    1. First requirements (2001.05.18)
    2. Second (2001.09.22)
  10. Utah requirements (2001.05.18)


  1. Online vote boost for disabled constituents: “The benefits of electronic voting for the disabled were an unexpected bonus for officials at Sheffield city council.... ‘I certainly think it’s true that this wasn’t the prime motivation. When we phoned up to find out if the voting system would link with my voice-recognition software, there was a great deal of excitement, especially when they found out it would’ ” (2002.06.10)
  2. About the Accessibility Forum: “ ‘The Accessibility Forum is an ongoing collaboration among stakeholders affected by Section 508 including user, industry, government, and other communities in order to benefit employees and members of the public with disabilities. The Forum will identify, prioritize and conduct projects that assist government in making informed decisions about Section 508 related procurement, and allow government, industry, and users to communicate and highlight areas where further effort is needed’ ” (2002.02.17)