Deadline passes to comment on FAR's accessibility clause

Deadline passes to comment on FAR's accessibility clause

As agencies scurry to meet the June deadline to make their systems compliant with Section 508, the Federal Acquisition Regulation Council is trying to finalize an accessibility language clause for the FAR.

The deadline to submit comments on the proposed clause passed last month. The council received 22 responses.

FAR Council officials declined to speak on the general tone of comments, but the Federal Bar Association has taken issue with the new FAR language, calling the proposed regulation unclear.
The regulation would affect all new contracts written after the Section 508 accessibility standards'requiring agencies to make information technology accessible to disabled users'take effect June 21.

The deadline is one of the parts of the proposed regulation change that the federal bar challenged, said Richard Theis, chairman of the association's government contracts section.

Effective date unclear

The effective date is not clear, Theis said, because the proposed regulation only stated that the FAR Council had to revise the acquisition rules to incorporate Section 508 standards six months after the Access Board had published its final standards, which happened Dec. 21. That would seem to imply that the regulation would take effect June 21, when agencies must also comply with Section 508.

The bar would like this date to be clearly enunciated in the proposed change, Theis said.
The Information Technology Association of America also filed comments seeking clarification about the effective data and asked the FAR Council to make it clear that the change would apply only to new contracts written after June 21. ITAA also asked that contract modifications or product upgrades made under existing contracts be exempted.

The General Services Administration is partially exempt from making sure that contractors on its General Supply Schedule meet the requirement, Theis said. That duty falls to the ordering agencies, the proposed FAR change said.

Indeed, GSA's Federal Supply Service submitted comments suggesting that the FAR Council make that point even clearer, asking that schedule contracts be specifically exempted.

But Theis balked at the exemption request. If an agency can't trust the contracts on the schedule to meet FAR requirements, the schedules won't be helpful anymore, he said.

The federal bar also sought clarification on when a product meets the proposed FAR regulation. Some systems tools, Theis said, are not themselves accessible, becoming so only with the use of assistive technology. FAR should allow the maximum use of assistive technology to make a product or service compliant, Theis said.

'Tony Lee Orr

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