OMB to unveil accessibility standards
- By William Matthews
- Dec 11, 2000
Long-awaited Section 508 accessibility standards have been approved by the
Office of Management and Budget and may be published as soon as Friday,
according to the federal Access Board.
Publication in the Federal Register will start a six-month countdown
for federal agencies to overhaul their Internet sites and buy only office
equipment that is accessible to people with disabilities.
Agencies that fail to comply with the standards could face legal action,
possibly as early as mid-June.
For many agencies, Internet sites are the biggest worry.
Section 508 standards will require that information on Web pages be
made "accessible" to people with a wide range of disabilities, including
vision and hearing impairments, dexterity problems, color blindness and
even rare conditions such as photosensitive epilepsy triggered by rapidly
Making Web pages generally accessible is not difficult, but it can be
time-consuming, accessibility experts say.
Essentially, agencies must ensure that information on their Web pages
is available in formats that can be used by people with disabilities. Attaching
text labels to graphics and photos, for example, makes it possible for screen
readers to describe them to computer users with impaired vision. Eliminating
color coding, improving page organization and providing alternative text-only
pages are other accessibility solutions.
Besides improving the accessibility of Web pages, Section 508 requires
agencies to provide disabled workers with accessible office equipment. The
law applies to computers and software, photocopiers, printers, telephones,
fax machines and kiosk-like "information transaction machines."
However, the shift to accessible office equipment may be less urgent
than the effort to post accessible Web pages. The law says agencies must
stop buying non-accessible equipment, but it does not require them to scrap
equipment they already own.
Section 508 is a 1986 amendment to the Rehabilitation Act, but for 12
years it lacked an enforcement mechanism. In 1998, Congress gave the public
and federal employees with disabilities the right to sue and file administrative
complaints when agencies fail to comply.
Agencies will become vulnerable to legal action six months after the
508 standards are published in the Federal Register.