The commission updates its rules to ensure browsers are accessible to people with disabilities.
The Federal Communications Commission has long sought to improve accessibility to communications networks by people with disabilities by making it easier to find the right resources for the disability. As new technologies emerged, the commission has issued updates to cover accessibility to those technologies. But until recently something had slipped through the cracks.
When Section 716 of the Communications Act was added, it was supposed to enforce access to advanced communications devices “such as computers, laptops and tablets used for e-mail, to be accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, unless doing so is not achievable.” But the Consumer Electronics Association and the Information Technology Industry Council argued that Section 716 does not cover Internet browsers, because they are not hardware; they are tools for “information location” and not communication. This is despite the pervasiveness of Web-based e-mail and social networks.
The FCC decided to put that to bed once and for all. Last week the commission released a Report and Order to implement Section 718 and part of Section 716 of the Communications Act. Section 718 “requires Internet browsers installed on mobile phones to be accessible to and usable by individuals who are blind or have a visual impairment, unless doing so is not achievable. This requirement applies when Internet browsers are used for any purpose.”
And to close that loophole, Section 716 “requires Internet browsers installed on equipment used for advanced communications services, such as computers, laptops, and tablets used for e-mail, to be accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, unless doing so is not achievable. This requirement applies when Internet browsers are used for advanced communications services.”
The rule is unlikely to cause much disruption, however, thanks to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendment, which requires agencies to buy and use accessible products. Browser-makers have worked on 508 compliance for years. Microsoft (Internet Explorer), Mozilla (Firefox) and Google (Chrome) all support Section 508 and have submitted Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates, stating compliance.
But mobile browsers are different from those on the desktop, and the FCC’s new rules could help ensure browser-makers keep accessibility in mind. The requirements apply to browsers installed on mobile phones and other equipment that are manufactured on or after Oct. 8, 2013.