IT execs bemoan June "Section 508" deadline
- By William Matthews
- Dec 14, 2000
Faced with a June deadline for meeting new accessibility standards, information
technology executives now say six months isn't nearly enough time to redesign
office equipment and rewrite software to accommodate government workers
The standards for accessibility will be published Dec. 21, which will
give manufacturers until June 21 to produce electronic and information technology
that can be used by workers with a variety of physical and mental disabilities.
Companies that fail to meet the deadline won't be able to sell to the federal
IT executives surveyed Dec. 7 and 8 said they "can't possibly be prepared
to comply" with the new standards by June. Instead, they are likely to press
Congress for more time and look for loopholes in the requirement, according
to Input, the Virginia-based market research company that conducted the
Companies have known since August 1998 that accessibility requirements
were coming. That's when Congress passed Section 508 of the Rehabilitation
Act. What they haven't known — and won't know until the standards are published — is precisely what they must do to make their products accessible.
The law applies to electronic office equipment ranging from desktop
computers to printers, fax machines, photocopiers and telephones. It also
applies to agency Internet sites. In general, Section 508 says that agencies
must ensure that employees with disabilities have access to and use of data
and information comparable to that afforded non-disabled employees.
Not every government-owned computer must have a screen reader or a Braille
display or a foot-operated mouse, for example, but agency workstations must
be able to accommodate them where they are needed.
The law also requires agencies to ensure that their Internet sites provide
disabled members of the public with access comparable to the access provided
non-disabled users. Agency employees and members of the public can take
legal action against agencies that fail to comply.
IT executives told Input that the six-month deadline set out under Section
508 is far too soon to be met by companies that typically have 18- to 24-month
Software makers have voiced similar concerns, said Mark Bohannon, general
counsel and vice president for government affairs at the Software and Information
Industry Association. "Six months is short," he said. "It remains to be
seen whether the deadline can be met."
For some companies, millions of dollars may be at stake, said Albert
Nekimken, vice president and director of research at Input." Some vendors
fear whole sections of their product lines could be virtually unsaleable
in the federal market."
"Publicly, the IT industry is dedicated to compliance," he said. But
more privately, the industry is likely to "redouble its efforts to use industry
organizations to lobby for more time."
Companies are also likely to exploit loopholes in the 508 law to avoid
compliance, Nekimken said. At least two loopholes are evident so far. One
is that the law exempts agencies from compliance when they can show that
compliance imposes an undue burden. The other is that "micropurchases" of
less than $2,500 may be exempt.
Access regs likely to be vague/fcw/articles/2000/1113/web-access-11-15-00.asp
Disabled workers left behindAgencies' IT accessibility efforts move
Access.gov Adapting systems for the disabled isn't as tough as you think/fcw/articles/2000/0807/cov-access-08-07-00.asp