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What is section 504 and how does it relate to Section 508?

Responsibilities under Section 504 and Section 508 can overlap.  Both statutes impose different, but somewhat related, obligations on HHS OPDIVs/STAFFDIVs that are intended to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination based on their disabilities. Agencies must comply with both provisions when they distribute information.

Section 508 requires Federal agencies to ensure that persons with disabilities (both employees and members of the public) have comparable access to and use of electronic information technology. That means that any electronic and information technology used, maintained, developed, or procured by HHS must be accessible to persons with disabilities.  

Section 504 requires agencies to provide individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in their programs and benefit from their services, including the provision of information to employees and members of the public.  Agencies must provide appropriate auxiliary aids where necessary to ensure an equal opportunity.  Types of auxiliary aids may include brailled or large print versions of materials, electronic diskettes, audiotapes, qualified interpreters or readers, telecommunications devices for deaf persons (TDDs), captioning of video, and other methods of making information available and accessible to persons with disabilities.  In considering what type of auxiliary aid to provide, agencies must give primary consideration to the request of the individual with a disability and shall honor that request, unless it can demonstrate that another effective means of communication exists.

What does this mean for managing websites?

Agencies must ensure that all published electronic information is compatible with assistive technology devices commonly used by people with disabilities for information and communication.  This applies to persons with disabilities who use assistive technology to read and navigate electronic materials.  If an electronic publication cannot be made compliant, then OPDIVs/STAFFDIVs must provide a reasonable alternative to the document.

An agency may, in some instances, be able to meet its Section 504 obligation to provide equal opportunity to persons with disabilities and ensure effective communication by making information available in a Section 508-compliant form on its external-facing website or intranet(s).  However, in other cases, in order to meet its Section 504 obligation, an agency may need to provide an appropriate auxiliary aid to an individual with a disability, regardless of whether information on its website meets accessibility requirements under Section 508.

Examples of situations where an agency would be required to provide information to a person with disabilities in an alternate format:

  • A person who is blind requests an audio or Braille version of a publicly available report that is posted on an agency’s Section 508-compliant website.  If necessary to provide the person equal access to the information, the agency must provide the report in an alternate format, such as an audio file or Braille.  
  • A person with a manual impairment that limits his ability to effectively use a computer requests an agency to provide web-based information about seasonal influenza in print.  If a printed version of the information is necessary for the person to have equal access to the information, the agency must provide the information in print.

For further information or if you have questions regarding Section 504 requirements, please contact the HHS Office for Civil Rights by e-mail at OCRmail@HHS.GOV, or by telephone at (800) 368-1019, or TDD (800) 537-7697.   For further information or if you have questions regarding Section 508 requirements, please contact the HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs by e-mail at 508@hhs.gov

Resources

Section 508 Compliance:

Section 504 Compliance: 
http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/understanding/disability/index.html