508 deadline is only the beginning

508 deadline is only the beginning

By Dipka Bhambhani

GCN Staff

JUNE 21—It's Section 508 deadline day, when all federal systems are supposed to be accessible to disabled workers.

But just to make sure, the National Council on Disability today called on President Bush to appoint a blue-ribbon commission to study the patchwork of laws governing access to information technology by the disabled.

Calling access a civil right, NCD member Bonnie O'Day said that despite Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998, Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, no comprehensive legal framework exists to cover access.

In a report, 'The Accessible Future,' NCD called for the proposed commission to do a cost-benefit analysis for access. It recommended that full access to so-called E&IT—electronic and information technology—become part of agencies' planning, and that consumers be included in that planning.

Although June 21 is a key date, disabled federal workers don't necessarily have a case against their employers if all systems are not accessible today, said David M. Capozzi, director of technical and information services for the Access Board, an independent body that established the accessibility deadline last December.

'June 21 marks the implementation of 508,' Capozzi said at an NCD press conference today in Washington. 'It's not the end, it's only the beginning.'

Disabled federal employees can sue if agency procurements on or after today do not specify products that meet Section 508 requirements. The deadline is about enforceability, he said.

Still, Capozzi praised federal compliance efforts to date.

'Industry is responding in an unprecedented fashion, and the government is responding in an unprecedented fashion,' he said. 'I'm proud to be a government employee, because government is responding in a positive and coordinated way.'

'People need to start paying attention to 508,' he said. 'And they are.'

Capozzi said the Access Board site, at www.access-board.gov, has received 4.1 million hits since the deadline was set in December.

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