Agencies face June deadline for meeting Section 508

Agencies face June deadline for meeting Section 508

BY WILLIAM JACKSON | GCN STAFF

Agencies have until June 29 to ensure that their Web sites meet accessibility standards published late last month by the Access Board, an independent federal organization.

The standards set the bar federal agencies must meet to make information systems usable by people with disabilities. Federal technology workers have been waiting for the final regulations for months.

Originally, Congress had mandated that the new accessibility regulations be in place last year, but the creation of the draft regs by the Access Board took longer than anticipated, leading lawmakers to push back the implementation deadline.


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size="2" color="#FF0000">Spending will increase because agencies will be buying new equipment and software.

size="1" color="#FF0000">-Target Director Ophelia Falls

The standards, called for under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, become part of the Federal Acquisition Regulations and take effect June 29.
They apply to all information technology products procured after that date, including communications, duplication, computing, storage, presentation, control, transport and production equipment.

Ophelia Falls, director of the Agriculture Department's Technology Accessible Resources Gives Employment Today Center, said compliance with the new standards is possible but could be costly.

Systems upgrades

'The standards require all information technology to be accessible to all employees, which means compatibility with various assistive technologies, such as screen readers,' Falls said. 'The Access Board's standards give the manufacturers the marketing incentive to develop equipment that meets the federal government's requirements.'

Spending will increase because agencies will be buying new equipment and software, she said.

Departments and agencies will also need to train their procurement and IT executives, Falls said, noting that the General Services Administration has been sponsoring training workshops.

The accessibility standards also apply to federal Web sites.

The board also oversees accessibility to federal facilities, buildings and vehicles by disabled persons.

Congress in 1998 amended the Rehabilitation Act and Section 508 to include access to federal IT equipment. The board then established an advisory committee to recommend new standards, which were released for comment in draft form in March.

The final standards do not apply to military command and control, weaponry, intelligence or cryptologic equipment, or to back-office equipment used only for maintenance and repair.

Some of the standards are specific to certain technologies:

' For software applications and operating systems, the provisions concentrate on visually impaired users and alternative keyboard navigation for those who cannot use a mouse.

' Intranet and Internet information and Web applications must follow the access guidelines developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium. They require text labels and descriptors for graphics and other format elements compatible with assistive devices such as audible screen readers and Braille displays.

' Telecommunications products must allow access by people who are deaf or hard of hearing and must have connections for visible message display and adjustable volume controls.

' Video and multimedia equipment must have caption decoder circuitry and secondary audio channels for captioned or audio descriptions of presentations.

' Self-contained products such as kiosks, copiers, printers, calculators, fax machines and other peripherals must have embedded access features for handset or headphone jacks, touch-screens and adjustable volume controls.

' Desktop and portable computers have specific standards for keyboards, other mechanical controls, touch-screens, biometric devices, ports and connectors.

The enforcement of disability standards is a good move for the government, Falls said.

'A disability can happen at any time and having the technology ready for accessibility is just smart business,' she said.

The complete standards are available on the Access Board's Web site, at www.access-board.gov.

GCN staff writer Tony Lee Orr contributed to this report.

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