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Section 508 Reference Guide Introduction


We have all had our share of "challenges" in creating a Section 508 program, particularly in the thorny area of compliance. It is not easy, especially if you are like me and not a technician. While the law provides specific standards, everyone who deals with Section 508 issues has his or her own interpretation.

The need for a homogenized interpretation of the standards is not a new concept. In 2002, the GSA employed the Accessibility Forum to create a document that provided guidelines for determining compliance. The end product was comprehensive and technical.

While the Accessibility Forum's document was good, it did not meet all the USPTO needs. The USPTO environment requires not only simple and non-technical techniques for dealing with Section 508 and compliance, but information and policies to ensure employees, contractors and vendors are all on the "same page."

To that end, I assembled a team of talented individuals from the USPTO and private companies to standardize our interpretation of the law and simplify methods for determining compliance. Based on our interpretations, items tested using techniques in this guide should provide at least a 75% level of confidence that the item tested is Section 508 compliant.

To create a more useful guide, we have also included sections on different test tools, lessons-learned from creating a 508 program, our program's forms and instructions, and a wealth of other 508-related information. Our goal is to create a single source document that provides all the information required to process compliant products.

Of course, all organizations are different and the USPTO interpretation of the law and created business processes may or may not work for other agencies. However, no matter what the differences, all organizations share certain commonalities. So organizations can look for the commonalities with the USPTO rather than the differences.

This guide is based on a real world, operational program that has been recognized as a Federal Government best practice. More significant, at least to me, is that the program is now part of the culture and the way the USPTO does business.

We hope you will find the guide beneficial. To make the guide even more effective, we welcome your feedback. Please provide your feedback or comments to

USPTO Section 508 Coordinator

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Section 508 Overview

While Section 508 has been a law for over a decade, the current version of the law and the basis for this guide was effective June 21, 2001.

The law requires the Government to develop, procure, maintain and use EIT that provides the same level of access to people with disabilities as to those without. To help define EIT, the law includes specific technology standards. To help "encourage" compliance, the law has legal consequences for non-compliance.

There are six product categories in the law that have specific technical standards. Information on each of these categories is presented in this Guide:

If a product or service does not fall into one of the six categories, the agency must meet Subpart C, 1194.31, Functional performance criteria. All EIT procurements must meet Subpart D, 1194.41, Information, documentation and support. Detailed information on Subparts C and D is provided in Appendix A of this Guide.

There are several important points to remember about Section 508:

  • It is an EIT infrastructure that supports Sections 501/504 disability accommodations. Having a Section 508-compliant infrastructure enables faster and more efficient accessibility for those who are disabled.
  • Only Federal Agencies are legally responsible for compliance. No matter what a vendor or contractor promises, the federal agency is still liable for compliance.
  • Functional requirements, not Section 508 standards, drive the procurement. Once a product or service is identified that meets the functional requirements, then the product is purchased which is most Section 508 compliant.
  • All standards are equal in importance.
  • Products or services can include standards in several categories (e.g., software).
  • If a standard states "When…", it only applies to specific situations. Otherwise, the standard is not applicable.
  • If there is a problem determining compliance, the easiest and most effective way to evaluate a product is to read the user manual or call the manufacturer. Since the manufacturer has already stated that the product is compliant, they should be able to explain exactly how it complies with the standard. It would be a good idea to note the manufacturer's explanation and make it part of the official procurement documentation.

More comprehensive information about the law is discussed at these websites:

Also see Appendix E for further information about the USPTO Section 508 Program.

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Why Section 508 is Important to You

Why should you implement Section 508? Simple. It is a law. However, besides being a law, every one of us has a vested interest in implementing it. If you or your family or friends or peers have health-related problems, then they may be a candidate for AT. The problems can be as common as needing corrective optics or having hearing loss or struggling with arthritis or having diabetes or enduring nagging aches in the joints or back. Any one of these problems - along with numerous others - can regretfully evolve into a condition that will make you one of the statistics below.

As troublesome as the aches and pains are, the odds of them evolving into a limitation are even more disconcerting. Look around. Half the people you see will have some degree of limitation before they retire. The statistics are unsettling. You have a vested and personal interest in Section 508.

Age Group Some Limitations Severe Limitations Total % of Age Group Part of Age Group
35 - 44 years 13.4% 11.0% 24.4% 1 out of 4
45 - 54 years 23.0% 13.0% 36.0% 1 out of 3
55 - 64 years 34.2% 16.0% 50.2% 1 out of 2
65 - 69 years 45.4% 18.5% 63.9% 2 out of 3
70 - 74 years 55.3% 22.0% 77.3% 3 out of 4

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Questions to Improve Understanding

1. What "drives" a procurement request?

  1. Section 508 standards
  2. Functional requirements
  3. Procurement law (e.g., best value, 8A company)

 Answer 1.

2. Do products created by a software contractor have to be 508 compliant? (two correct answers)

  1. No, because they are not Federal employees.
  2. Yes, because it is part of the requirements in their task order.
  3. No, because it would be too expensive.
  4. Yes, because it is a procurement action.

 Answer 2.

3. Which of the following are not considered EIT products? (two correct answers)

  1. Blank CD-R disc
  2. Paper for a color printer
  3. External modem
  4. Desktop computer

 Answer 3.

4. Which Section 508 standard is the most important to have in a product?

  1. Standard concerning blinking lights, since they can induce epileptic seizures.
  2. Standard concerning use of color, since it facilitates navigation/operation.
  3. Standard concerning twisting and turning motions that require physical strength.
  4. All Section 508 standards are equally important.

 Answer 4.

5. Who is legally liable for non-compliant 508 products?

  1. Vendor/contractor
  2. Federal Government

 Answer 5.

6. Which way does the USPTO implement the 508 law?

  1. Letter of the law
  2. Spirit of the law

 Answer 6.

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Answer Key

United States Patent and Trademark Office