Industry tackles 508 regs

Proposed standards for making computers and other electronic equipment accessible

to people with disabilities have myriad shortcomings, according to an information

technology industry group.

The Information Technology Association of America weighed in during

the last week of the comment period on Section 508, an amendment to the

Workforce Investment Act of 1998.

ITAA said that it supports the goals of the standards but offered many

suggestions to be considered before the Architectural and Transportation

Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) issues a final ruling.

"This is undistilled information from industry to the Access Board,"

said Rex Lint, chairman of the Section 508 working group at ITAA. "We hope

they [review] these suggestions to determine if they're important and apply

them, so we expect to see change."

ITAA suggestions include restating the standards so they take the form

of "technical and functional performance criteria" and not specific design

requirements.

Specific design requirements lock down developing technologies, Lint

said, but industry "needs as much elbow room as possible to solve things

in different ways as the technology changes."

Other ITAA recommendations include:

* Acknowledging that it will take longer than six months to apply the regulations

to computer products, especially high-end applications and operating systems.

* Clarifying that Section 508 requirements do not apply to maintenance

and administrative functions, including back-office equipment and servers.

* Addressing the lack of formal standards that govern interoperability

between assistive technology and mainstream technology.

"We received about 80 comments, including the ITAA's, and expect over

100 total," said Dave Yanchulis, an accessibility specialist at the Access

Board. "The board will begin reviewing the comments in the coming days,

and deliberations on any changes will take place through June and July,

with all of that time devoted to the internal process."

The standards for Section 508, which were proposed by the Access Board

on March 31, affect a variety of electronic equipment and World Wide Web

sites operated by federal agencies, all of which must be made accessible

unless the agencies can show an "undue burden." When finalized, the Access

Board's Section 508 standards will become part of the federal government's

procurement regulations.

"This should be a wake-up call for the IT industry," Lint said. "When

they started off, they didn't really have industry's attention, but they've

got our attention now."

—Bill Matthews contributed to this article.

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