Hi Melanie,

Section 508 is an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act that requires federal departments and agencies to make their websites (and other “electronic and information technology”) accessible to persons with disabilities.

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that places of public accommodation be accessible to persons with disabilities. Generally, right now, Title III is currently being construed to include websites.

To answer your question, no, these are distinct from one another as one applies to the private sector and the other applies to the federal government. In 2017, Section 508 was revised to incorporate WCAG 2.0.

Section 508 does not apply to recipients of federal funds. However, Section 504 does. Section 504 requires agencies and recipients of federal funding provide equal opportunity to persons with disabilities to participate in participate in programs and benefit from services. Thus, under 504, recipients of federal aid are covered which means their websites need to be accessible too.

Additionally, vendors to the federal government may need to meet 508 accessibility requirements and file a VPAT. A Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT™) is a document that explains how information and communication technology (ICT) products such as software, hardware, electronic content, and support documentation meet 508 standards for IT accessibility.

As a small business owner, I HIGHLY recommend you make your website accessible. Obviously, I don’t know the type of business you run and whether or not your website is connected to a brick and mortar location but, regardless of the situation, I always advise to make your website accessible.

Eventually having an accessible website will be the law (I’m working on standardizing accessibility and making it much easier to understand and identify vs. trying to figure out and work through the 38 success criteria under WCAG 2.0 AA) but, practically speaking, I think most businesses — even web-based businesses — are at risk of an ADA website compliance demand letter or lawsuit right now.

And whether we have a great legal argument (that there is no law) is not important because it’s very costly in time and money to have a grand legal debate over the subject. It’s better just to make your website accessible and not have to worry about it.