Section 508: Digital Accessibility at NIH


The NIH Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) oversees the Section 508 program at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Section 508 is a key amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This amendment focuses on digital accessibility, requiring that all Information and Communication Technology (ICT) developed, procured, maintained, or used by the Federal government be accessible to people with disabilities.

Why It's Important

The implementation of Section 508 is not merely a regulatory requirement but a commitment to inclusivity and digital accessibility. It aims to eliminate barriers in information technology, to make new opportunities available for people with disabilities, and to encourage the development of technologies that will help achieve these objectives. By adhering to these standards, we not only comply with federal law but also contribute to a more inclusive digital environment.

What is Digital Accessibility?

Digital accessibility is about making sure that ICT and digital content provides equal access to persons with disabilities as for those without. The goal is to remove any barriers that prevent interaction with, or access to, technology. Section 508 aims to create new opportunities for people with disabilities and encourage the development of technologies that help achieve these inclusive goals.

Who Does Section 508 Cover?

Section 508 serves as a cornerstone for digital inclusivity, specifically targeting Federal employees and members of the public who live with disabilities. If you are employed by a Federal agency or if you engage with Federal services and programs, Section 508 mandates that the technology and digital services you encounter must be accessible to everyone.

Assistive Technology

While Section 508 focuses on overall ICT accessibility, it does not address accommodations for individuals. For example, sign language interpreters or assistive technology, such as screen readers or specialized keyboards, are considered reasonable accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The oversight responsibility for Section 504 (reasonable accommodations) and 501 (discrimination of employment in the Federal sector against individuals with disabilities) activities and the associated complaints process are under the direct purview of the NIH Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI).

Section 508 Technical Standards

The Section 508 Technical Standards were revised in 2017 and are organized into seven key chapters that focus on various aspects of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) accessibility. These Standards work as a bridge allowing access to the technology we use and create towards people with disabilities and those using Assistive Technologies. Below are these chapters with hyperlinks for more in-depth information:

The NIH Section 508 Team

The effectiveness of the NIH Section 508 program is highly dependent on the collaboration with, and efforts of, the NIH community. 

IC Section 508 Coordinators

Each NIH Institute and Center (IC) appoints a senior Section 508 Coordinator. This person ensures effective accessibility measures within their IC and serves as the main contact for the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) on policy and reporting matters related to Section 508.

NIH Section 508 Advisory Group

Established in 2009, this Advisory Group supports the OCIO's leadership in Section 508 compliance. The group advises the OCIO on implementing accessibility measures and shares best practices across NIH's various units and organizations.


  1. Section 508 Technical Standards
    This is the official source for the technical standards that define how to make Information and Communication Technology (ICT) accessible. It's a comprehensive guide for developers, designers, and procurement officers. 
  2. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0
    Developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), WCAG 2.0 guidelines for making content more accessible to people with disabilities. Section 508 makes these a requirement and references WCAG 2.0 to be applicable to electronic content like software, web, and documents.
    This is the go-to resource for all things related to Section 508 within the Federal government. It offers tools, best practices, and guidelines for achieving accessibility.
  4. ICT Baseline Tests
    This resource provides a set of tests specifically for evaluating the accessibility of web applications. It's a useful guideline and best practice for web developers to ensure compliance with Section 508.