Earlier this year in January, the Access Board issued a Final Rule that contains updates accessibility requirements for information and communication technology (ICT) in the federal sector covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act which went effective on March 21, 2017. The Access Board ruled out January 18, 2018 as the deadline for implementing the updates for accessibility requirements for ICT.
What is Section 508?
In 1998, with the motive of making their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities, the Government made amendments to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The law applies to all federal agencies to make sure that there are no barriers for the people with disabilities when they want to access the electronic information of a federal agency. The President signed into law the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 on August 7, 1998. The law includes the Rehabilitation Act Amendments that were made to the act. The section 508 that was originally included in the Act in 1986 was amended drastically in 1998 to expand and strengthen the technology access requirements for people with disabilities.
According to the Section 508, when Federal agencies develop, procure, maintain or use any electronic and information technology, they must ensure that it is accessible to the people with disabilities. It must be noted that Federal agencies must comply with the section while making sure that it does not pose an undue burden to do so. This makes sure that the public and Federal employees with disabilities can access and use information and services comparable to the access and use by non-disabled people.
The Final Rule
The final rule, issued by the Access Board on January 18, 2017, updates the accessibility requirements for information and communication technology in the Federal sector covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. The revisions and updates were made in line with latest trends in information and communication technology with a motive of making sure that the respective information is accessible to and usable by people with disabilities.
The Major Updates to ICT Final Rule – Section 508:
- One of the major change was change in the terminology from Electronic and Information Technology (E&IT) to Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to widen the scope of the coverage. ICT covers E&IT along with other communication technology.
- The section provisions are restructured by functionality as against the product type. This is because of the increased multi-functional capability of ICT.
- The provisions focuses on incorporating Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 by reference and applying Level A and Level AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements to websites, as well as to non-web electronic documents and software.
- As a major change, the new provisions specify the type of non-public facing electronic content that must comply with the provisions.
- The final rule harmonizes with international like European Union’s EN 301-549 standard for public procurement of ICT and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 and PDF/UA-1, though it directly include by reference only the WCAG 2.0 and PDF/UA-1 and not the EN301.549.
- Focus on public facing content other than web content (like documents, forms, surveys, training material etc.)