On January 5th the US Access Board announced that the OMB (Office of Management and Budget) had cleared the Final Rule for ICT (Information and Communication Technology) Standards and Guidelines, a.k.a. the "Section 508 Refresh". The new standards and guidelines were published in the U.S. Federal Register on January 18th and will become effective and enforceable starting January 18th, 2018.
You may be thinking: "What does this mean for our site?"
1. Not all content/code will have to be updated right away, because there is a safe-harbor provision, specifically:
"legacy ICT that complies with the existing 508 Standards and has not been altered after the compliance date (i.e., one year after publication of the final rule) need not be modified or upgraded to conform to the Revised 508 Standards. However, when existing ICT is altered after the compliance date, such alterations must comply with the Revised 508 Standards."
This means that if only some elements on the page are changed after January 18th, 2018, then only those changed elements need to comply. Any newly added elements will need to fully comply.
2. WCAG AA 2.0 is to be the new standard to follow. Previously WCAG A 2.0 was sufficient, but now you must comply with AA. This applies to all new or altered web, software and electronic documents, and includes digital content delivered to personal computers and mobile devices.
3. The Final Rule includes a provision for situations where some content might technically pass, but in reality be unusable by non-sighted / low-vision web site visitors, web visitors with cognitive disabilities, limited strength or limited manipulation. In such cases alternate content must be provided. This is in line with previous regulations, but is now more explicit as to which situations warrant this, and for what types of users. The Final Rule states that the:
"revised requirements include functional performance criteria, which are outcome-based provisions that apply in two limited instances: when the technical requirements do not address one or more features of ICT or when evaluation of an alternative design or technology is needed under equivalent facilitation"
In other words, in cases where the guidelines don't touch on whatever technology you may be implementing, the situation must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to ensure the outcome is one that provides ALL web visitors with comparable, if not identical content. For example, if you have a video with narration, it must include closed-captioning or an alternate way for the deaf to to follow along.