Access Board issues draft Section 508 rules

Access Board issues draft Section 508 rules

By Christopher J. Dorobek

GCN Staff

MARCH 31—The Access Board yesterday published a long-awaited draft of rules spelling out how government agencies must make their systems accessible to disabled users.

"Federal agencies must ensure that this technology is accessible to employees and the public to the extent it is not an 'undue burden,' " said the board, an independent federal agency that oversees standards on systems access for people with disabilities.

Derived from Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998, the rules would apply to agencies when they develop, buy, maintain or use information technology.

Federal systems officials and contractors have been awaiting the Section 508 draft, and many have voiced concern about the potential costs and requirements of meeting the congressional mandate [see GCN story at www.gcn.com/vol19_no2/opinion/1149-1.html].

The rules cover all IT, including Web applications, telecommunications functions and even kiosk services.

The section on Web applications, for example, includes a provision that would require agencies to provide alternative keyboard navigation for users with vision or muscular impairments.

The board's direction would not prohibit the use of Web site graphics or animation. "Instead, the standards aim to ensure that such information is also available in a format that is accessible to people with vision impairments," the draft said.

The 55-page draft is posted at www.access-board.gov/RULES/508nprm.htm.

Agencies and the public can submit comments to the board until May 30. The board will then review the responses and issue a final set of rules.

By statute, the provisions take effect Aug. 7. The amendments also require that the government establish an administrative complaint process.

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