The Importance of Section 508 Compliance

Chief learning officers and learning executives are tasked with ensuring that their entire audience of employees, partners and leaders has access to the learning that is imperative to business success. […]

Chief learning officers and learning executives are tasked with ensuring that their entire audience of employees, partners and leaders has access to the learning that is imperative to business success. For most people, this means making sure that learning is available through various methods and at convenient times. But what about special cases, such as learners with physical disabilities?


The World Health Organization estimates that around 20 percent of the population of the world has some sort of physical limitation. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 54 million people in the United States have some type of functional or physical limitation. When learning is delivered in person, accommodations can be made for those with disabilities, but what if your organization, like so many, is adopting a larger percentage of technology-delivered training? Technology-based learning, whether online learning, computer-based training or simulations, can be more difficult or even impossible to navigate for those with disabilities. For example, a vision-impaired employee may have difficulties with text-based e-learning.


In order to eliminate barriers to technology for people with disabilities, Congress in 1998 amended the Rehabilitation Act. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act was not developed specifically for learning technologies, though it does apply to them. Section 508 is intended to create opportunities for people with disabilities to access electronic and information technologies. The standards explain how to make products such as computers, software and other electronic equipment available to people with disabilities, such as those with vision, hearing and mobility impairments.


Section 508 applies specifically to federal government organizations, requiring that the electronic and information technology acquired, developed, maintained or used by the government be accessible to those with disabilities. It requires that access to information is the same for everyone, whether they’re disabled or not. And while the rule only applies to federal government agencies, with technology becoming more critical to the successful operation of a business, many private organizations are adopting the standards set forth as well.


Many vendors of learning technologies work with the federal government, giving them an incentive to comply with Section 508. Most recently, SkillSoft, a provider of e-learning courseware announced that more than 300 of its IT skills courses now meet the technical and functional requirements for Section 508, making these courses available to employees who have vision, hearing and motor-skill impairments. And, SkillSoft has further plans to make all of its English courses in its IT library compliant as well. 


Chuck Moran, president and CEO of SkillSoft, said that while ensuring equal access to training and development has been important to the company’s federal clients and companies that work with the federal government, the private sector has also increasingly been recognizing the importance of equal access. “We believe Section 508 is in keeping with the overarching promise of e-learning—to help all organizations ‘democratize’ training and give all employees accessibility to training and development opportunities anywhere, anytime.”


Do your employees, partners and leaders have equal access to learning? If not, you should consider making Section 508 compliance one of your requirements for any new vendors you choose to work with.


Emily Hollis is associate editor for Chief Learning Officer Magazine. She can be reached at


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