Accessibility requirements for software and Web applications

Organizations that want to make their applications accessible to the disabled might have to comply with several sets of slightly different regulations and guidelines, depending on the countries in which their products will be sold or used.

Section 508

Section 508, enacted in 1998, is an extension of the U.S. Government's Rehabilitation Act. Section 508 requires that all electronic and information technology that U.S. Government agencies develop, procure, maintain, and use must be accessible to members of the general public who have disabilities. Many individual states in the U.S. have adopted these requirements as well. Organizations that offer software applications for sale to the U.S. Federal government and many state governments, as well as companies that use or sell accessibility aids, must comply with these regulations to ensure that their products qualify for purchase.

WCAG 1.0

The Section 508 guidelines are based on the accessibility guidelines published in May 1999 by the World Wide Web Consortium. These are known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 1.0. The WCAG 1.0 is the common basis for most accessibility guidelines and the standard for government enforcement of regulations in many countries today. These guidelines have three priority levels. Priority 1 deals with features essential for access to Web content; Priority 2 defines practices that make websites more usable and comprehensible in general, and especially to those using accessibility tools; Priority 3 describes enhanced usability features that make use of the newest technology.

Section 508 includes most of the Priority 1 WCAG recommendations, several from Priorities 2 and 3, and also a few other requirements that are not in the WCAG. The WCAG recommends that organizations strive to meet the Priority 1 and 2 guidelines.

French legislation

The French government has also enacted legislation requiring Web accessibility for those with disabilities and published criteria for conformance called AccessiWeb. AccessiWeb includes three levels, Bronze, Silver, and Gold, that correspond roughly to the three priority levels of the WCAG, but AccessiWeb promotes many level 2 and 3 requirements to higher levels and includes more detail than some of the WCAG recommendations.

U.K. legislation

The United Kingdom has passed legislation called the Disability Discrimination Act that requires websites targeting British residents to be accessible to those with disabilities. Enforcement of the U.K. law currently is based on the WCAG 1.0 Priority 1 and 2 guidelines.

Other countries

Many other countries have enacted legislation requiring government or general-use websites to be accessible to the disabled. Several of these countries explicitly require compliance with Priorities 1 and 2 of the WCAG 1.0, but a few require only Priority 1 compliance. Many other countries without legislated requirements use the WCAG standards in practice.

WCAG 2.0

The WCAG standards are currently being updated with the intention that they will become a universally accepted set of international guidelines for Web accessibility. WCAG 2.0 will focus on general principles that set out the characteristics websites must have to be accessible to users with disabilities. Separate documents will spell out the technical requirements so that these can be updated easily as technology changes without requiring updates to the general principles.

For more information

For information about the accessibility requirements of the U.S. Federal Government for software applications and websites, see the Section 508 Standards for Electronic and Information Technology at and the Guide to Section 508 Standards at

For the generally accepted international recommendations for Web accessibility, see the WCAG guidelines at For the new guidelines under development, see the WCAG 2.0 guidelines at

For the Web accessibility criteria adopted by the French government, see the AccessiWeb criteria at