What Distinguishes 508, ADA, And WCAG Different From Each Other?

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By Henry Jackson

What Is Section 508?

The term “Section 508” refers to the section of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act that was revised by the Workforce Investment Act of 1998. This law mandates that federal agencies create, obtain, maintain, and make use of information and communication technology (ICT) that is accessible to all people with disabilities, whether or not they are employed by the federal government.

Following the revision of Section 508 by the Workforce Investment Act, the U.S. Access Board established the Section 508 Standards that implement the revised law and provide the requirements for accessibility.


Section 508 VPAT And Other Editions Of The VPAT

To address the general issue of matching ICT product features to Section 508 accessibility requirements with a checklist, the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) developed the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) in collaboration with the U.S. federal government’s central procurement office, the General Services Administration (GSA).

The U.S. Revised Section 508 VPAT is the VPAT edition used for reporting an ICT product or service’s compliance with the U.S. Revised Section 508 Standards. You can find out how to use this edition of the VPAT by referring to the Section 508 VPAT example developed by a VPAT accessibility expert.

The European Union (EU) EN 301 549 Standards VPAT, the VPAT International, and the VPAT Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are the three further editions of the VPAT. The VPAT EU is used to document ICT products and services’ compliance with the EU’s EN 301 and 549 Standards, while the VPAT WCAG version is used to document the accessibility of web content and mobile applications.

The VPAT International edition contains all the accessibility requirements in the WCAG VPAT, Section 508 VPAT, and the VPAT EU. This edition of the VPAT is used to document the accessibility features of ICT products and services meant for the global market.


What Is The Americans With Disabilities Act?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that was enacted in the U.S. in 1990. The law forbids discrimination against people with disabilities in all spheres of public life, including employment, education, transportation, and all openly accessible public and private locations.

Making sure that people with disabilities have the same opportunities and rights as everyone else is the goal of the ADA. The law ensures that people with disabilities have equal access to public facilities, employment opportunities, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications.

ADA non-compliance carries grave consequences for a non-compliant business or organization. The ramifications include being subjected to costly legal proceedings as well as paying hefty fines and damages.

To help businesses and organizations conform to the ADA, VPAT accessibility experts ensure that ICT products and services conform to both the ADA and Section 508. In that way, businesses are able to have their ICT products and services purchased by federal organizations while at the same time not worrying about being subjected to ADA lawsuits and penalties.

In cases where the VPAT testing experts check for both the ADA and Section 508 compliance, they indicate that in the VPAT Section 508 compliance statement they make following the VPAT assessment. This helps buyers of the product or service know that the accessibility requirements under Section 508 and the ADA were considered in developing the product or service.


What Is WCAG?

As indicated earlier in this article, WCAG is an acronym for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. It is a global standard that is being created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in collaboration with people and organizations from all over the world with the aim of delivering a single, universally accepted standard for web accessibility that satisfies the requirements of people, organizations, and governments globally.

The WCAG explains how to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities. It includes WCAG 2.0, WCAG 2.1, and WCAG 2.2.



Some people mistakenly believe that the VPAT is the same as the WCAG. That is not the case. 

While the VPAT is a prototype template to guide vendors of ICT products and services to document how their products or services conform to the established accessibility standards, WCAG is one of those standards that the products or services need to conform to.

In fact, one of the VPAT editions, namely, VPAT WCAG, exclusively focuses on the accessibility criteria and specifications based on the WCAG guidelines.


What Distinguishes Section 508, The ADA, And WCAG?

While Section 508, the ADA, and WCAG all aim to make ICT accessible to people with disabilities, they are all different. WCAG is a set of website accessibility guidelines, while Section 508 is a federal law and the ADA is a civil rights law. Additionally, WCAG is an international standard, while Section 508 and the ADA are the foundations for U.S. accessibility standards.


Need Help With Section 508 Accessibility, ADA Compliance, Or WCAG?

If you need further assistance with Section 508 accessibility, AD compliance,or WCAG, call (626) 486-2201 to talk to an accessibility expert today.