Access Board spells out standards
- By William Matthews
- Dec 21, 2000
Nearly a year behind schedule, the federal Access Board has published standards
designed to force agencies to become leaders in adopting electronic and
information technology that can be used by people with a wide range of disabilities.
The Access Board officially, the Architectural and Transportation Barriers
Compliance Board published the new standards Dec. 21 in the Federal Register.
The requirements cover matters ranging from buying telephones with jacks
for plug-in devices used by deaf people, to acquiring computer software
that accommodates screen readers for blind people, to producing Web pages
that can be used by members of the public with disabilities ranging from
dexterity problems to photosensitive epilepsy.
And for the first time, government employees and members of the public will
be able to take legal action against agencies that fail to comply.
The new standards could add more than $1 billion a year about 3 percent
to the $38 billion the federal government now spends annually on IT, the
Access Board estimates.
But the benefit is expected to include greater employment among disabled
people, a 5 percent to 10 percent increase in productivity among federal
workers with disabilities and a "spillover of technology" that will boost
employment and productivity outside the federal government.
"It's been a long time coming," said Curtis Chong, director of technology
at the National Federation of the Blind. "I regard it as a positive step
in the right direction and I hope that the legal process doesn't cost us
The standards apply to an array of electronic and IT equipment including
information kiosks, office computers, photocopiers and fax machines. After
June 21, agency Web sites and the
equipment agencies buy must meet
the accessibility standards.
Required by legislation passed by Congress in 1998, the accessibility standards
see IT as a great equalizer for disabled people. Thus, the standards intend
to ensure that technology enables federal employees with disabilities to
have access to and use of information comparable to that of employees without
For government Internet sites, the standards require comparable access for
disabled members of the public.
Exceptions may be made when agencies can demonstrate that compliance poses
an undue burden, which the standards define as "significant difficulty or
The accessibility standards were to have been issued Feb. 7 and to have
taken effect Aug. 7. But several impediments, including concerns raised
by the IT industry about the cost and the broad reach of the regulations,
delayed publication until Dec. 21. The regulations now will take effect
June 21, 2001.