GSA tool to help agencies meet 508 requirements

The General Services Administration is testing software with five agencies that lets them determine which accessibility standards apply to the technology they want to purchase.

The agency's Section 508 office developed the Buy Accessible Wizard over the past year with the Accessibility Forum, a nonprofit organization focusing on IT accessibility, said Terry Weaver, director of GSA's Center for IT Accommodation.

The departments of Agriculture and Housing and Urban Development, GSA, IRS and the U.S. Geological Survey have been testing the tool since March, and Weaver said the second version of the wizard should be released next week.

Weaver said the final version should be available for governmentwide use by Oct. 1.

'We tried to address a number of questions about the 508 standards for technology,' Weaver said at a breakfast hosted by the Bethesda, Md. chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association in Bethesda. 'We reverse engineered the process so users know what rules apply to the technology they are buying.'

The wizard asks users a series of general to specific questions to figure out whether Section 508 applies to the IT purchase.

Weaver said there are 66 provisions in six categories under Section 508, and agency employees don't always understand how 508 applies in all instances.

She also added that a rule exempting IT that falls under the micropurchase threshold of $2,500 is scheduled to end Oct. 1, but the administration likely will extend it a few months. Weaver said there is a good chance the exemption will not be renewed after that.

The Justice Department's 508 survey from 2001 has been released, Weaver said. The survey offers a baseline of where agencies started three years ago.

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