Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires Federal Agencies to make electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. The law applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology— everything from computers and office equipment to websites. The section titled “video and multimedia products” deals specifically with accessible media services and states:
- “All training and informational video and multimedia productions which support the agency’s mission, regardless of format, that contains speech or other audio information necessary for the comprehension of the content, shall be open or closed captioned.”
- “All training and informational video and multimedia productions that support the agency’s mission, regardless of format, that contain visual information necessary for the comprehension of the content, shall be audio described.”
The captioning requirement means that simply posting a transcript next to a video is not acceptable. If the video contains speech which must be understood, it must be captioned, with captions appearing in time with the speech.
The audio description requirement is handled differently by different agencies. Many trainers have been taught to describe anything they are presenting, including charts, so that “talking head” videos may be accessible without adding a description track. Agencies which serve the public, including the National Park Service, do include audio description with their videos.
Section 508 Refresh
The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (also known as the Access Board) delivered a final rule, effective March 21, 2017, concerning the contemporary implementation of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which relates to ensuring the availability of accessible IT in the federal workplace. Because technology is constantly evolving, this “refresh” serves to address technological advancements and keep the Rehabilitation Act current.
The main purpose of the Section 508 refresh is to synchronize the requirements with universally-accepted internet accessibility standards, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG.
As of January 18, 2018, these rules are now in effect. For inclusive audio for the deaf and hard of hearing, government agencies will need to meet these criteria:
Level A, covering the most basic web accessibility features:
All non-text content that is presented to the user has a text alternative that serves the equivalent purpose, such as large print, braille or symbols or simpler language, except for these situations.
Captions are provided for all prerecorded audio content in synchronized media, except when the media is a media alternative for text and is clearly labeled as such.
For prerecorded audio-only and prerecorded video-only media, the following are true, except when the audio or video is a media alternative for text and is clearly labeled as such:
- Prerecorded audio-only: An alternative for time-based media is provided that presents equivalent information for prerecorded audio-only content.
- Prerecorded video-only: Either an alternative for time-based media or an audio track is provided that presents equivalent information for prerecorded video-only content.
Level AA, addressing the biggest and most common barriers for disabled users:
- Captions are provided for all live audio content in synchronized media.
- Audio description is provided for all prerecorded video content in synchronized media.