Feds might get short reprieve on Section 508

Feds might get short reprieve on Section 508

Agencies should appoint compliance coordinators to submit progress reports on Section 508, GSA's G. Martin Wagner says.

By Christopher J. Dorobek

GCN Staff

In the first governmentwide effort to make information technology accessible to the disabled, the General Services Administration is pushing agencies to have key Web sites ready by July 26, the 10th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Meanwhile, pending legislation would give agencies more time to comply with new rules governing IT accessibility.

'To demonstrate our commitment to implementing Section 508, please ensure that each agency or department's principal Web sites ' are accessible to persons with disabilities,' G. Martin Wagner, associate administrator of GSA's Office of Governmentwide Policy, noted in a memo issued last month.

Th Section 508 amendments to the Rehabilitation Act of 1998 require agencies to make IT accessible to disabled users [GCN, April 17, Page 1].

Web sites are widely seen as one of the easier items to make accessible because agencies need only include text details of the displayed graphics. But many sites do not define graphics, so screen readers cannot capture and provide the information to visually impaired visitors. The problem is compounded when a site uses icons and graphics for its links.

Wagner defined the most popular sites as the top 20 Web sites at each agency by volume of hits.

GSA is the lead agency for providing education to other agencies about Section 508. The Rehabilitation Act assigned GSA the task of providing technical assistance on implementation. GSA created the Federal IT Accessibility Initiative to coordinate carrying out the requirements.

Wagner asked agencies to appoint compliance coordinators to submit progress reports to GSA.

GSA has also created a Web site, at www.section508.gov, to publish information about the rules. GSA also helped organize a Section 508 booth at the recent FOSE trade show in Washington [GCN, April 24, Page 3].

GSA plans to conduct briefings for chief information officers, half-day training sessions for the coordinators and training sessions for webmasters.

It will also offer training for procurement officials once changes to the Federal Acquisition Regulation become official. are facing a tight deadline; the changes must take effect by Aug. 7. Senate lawmakers, however, want to give agencies a little more breathing room and last month passed an amendment that would delay the start day until six months after the Access Board had issued its final rules.

The Access Board, an independent federal agency, in April published a draft of the rules and accepted comments until last Wednesday [GCN, April 17, Page 1].

Section 508 applies to agencies when they develop, buy, maintain or use IT. The rule, however, does not require agencies to retrofit existing technology. Section 508 is designed to help disabled federal employees and citizens who use federal IT.

A little leeway

The Senate effort to delay the effective date of the new rules came in response to industry lobbying. Industry groups argue that because the rule-making process took longer than anticipated, Section 508 likely would take effect before the Access Board had completed the final version of the rules. The board expects to issue the final rules by year's end.

Sen. James M. Jeffords (R-Vt.) sponsored the delay language in an amendment to the Military Constructions Appropriations Act for fiscal 2001, S 2521.

'We think it is a technical amendment' in that it only adjusts the time when complaints can be filed to match the original intent, said Olga Grkavac, executive vice president for systems integration at the IT Association of America of Arlington, Va.

House and Senate appropriations conferees will have to debate the amendment because it is included only in the Senate bill, not in the House version.

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