Feds face access reg deadline relief

An amendment passed by the Senate last week would help federal agencies

dodge millions of dollars in lawsuits and postpone $1 billion worth of office

equipment upgrades to comply with new requirements that federal offices

be made accessible to workers with disabilities.

The Senate voted to push back the Aug. 7 deadline on which agencies

can be sued for failing to comply with Section 508 accessibility standards.

Section 508 is an amendment to the Workforce Investment Act of 1998.

A new deadline proposed by Sen. Jim Jeffords (R-Vt.) would give agencies

until at least November and more likely until next spring to provide workers

with computers, phones, photocopying machines and other electronic equipment

that accommodates individuals who are vision or hearing impaired or who

suffer from restrictions in their mobility.

Section 508 accessibility standards will also apply to federal Internet

sites.

Agencies could have faced millions of dollars in lawsuits after Aug.

7, according to information technology specialists who have followed the

Section 508 saga closely.

The Aug. 7 deadline for Section 508 compliance presumed accessibility

requirements would be spelled out in detail by Feb. 7. But proposed requirements

were not published until late March, and final regulations probably will

not be ready before fall, said Doug Wakefield, an IT accessibility specialist

at the federal Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board.

Jeffords' amendment would set the compliance date — thus the date agencies

could be sued for noncompliance — at six months after final requirements

are published.

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