Section 508 needs a boost

On the second anniversary of the Section 508 deadline for IT accessibility, panelists on a national webcast said that enforcement and industry support are waning.

In the AT508.com webcast, columnist John Williams, a former publisher of Assistive Technology News, said he has been gathering comments from federal workers and vendors. He said they complain that agencies are not implementing Section 508 and that the Bush administration is not committed to the law.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 called on federal agencies to make their IT systems accessible to disabled users. It took effect in June 2001.

Williams said some federal employees have told him that if they were to file complaints about their agencies' noncompliance, they would be labeled unpatriotic. Instead, he said, agencies that don't fulfill their obligations are the ones that should be called unpatriotic.

Section 508's status as an unfunded mandate makes it difficult for agencies to support, said consultant Mike Paciello, president of the Paciello Group LLC of Nashua, N.H. There is no single clearinghouse for interoperability certification and testing of IT products, he said.

Paciello cited the CIA, National Cancer Institute, Social Security Administration and Veterans Affairs Department as agencies that have taken their Section 508 responsibility seriously.

A future webcast will discuss naming an accessibility czar to monitor agency compliance, establishment of a organization for reliable certification of Section 508 technologies, and a clear definition of the clause that says an agency can get out of Section 508 if compliance would cause an undue burden.

Today's webcast, with audio and captioned video, will be archived at www.at508.com for one year.

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