U.S. Access Board updating Section 508 disability regulations

Draft requirements cover Web sites, software and IT devices

For the first time in a decade, the U.S. Access Board is proposing an update to regulations covering access for disabled people for computer software, Web sites, cell phones and other IT products and devices.

On March 17, the Access Board released a draft proposal for standards for electronic and information technology in the federal sector covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. It also updates some portions of Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act. The notice will be published in the Federal Register March 22.

The draft “Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Standards and Guidelines” reorganizes requirements by function, rather than by product type. It also revises performance criteria and technical specifications with the goal of improving accessibility, adding clarity, addressing market trends and promoting harmonization with other standards, according to a news release.

The goal of the guidelines is to set standards to ensure that the technologies are accessible for people with a variety of disabilities, including hearing, seeing, physical or speech-related disabilities. Technologies covered by this rulemaking include telephones, cell phones, computer hardware and software, Web sites, media players, electronic documents and other devices.

Under the telecommunications law of 1996, the U.S. Access Board was given the responsibility to develop accessibility guidelines, which were published in 1998. Under the Rehabilitation Act amendments of 1998, Section 508 required that federal agencies ensure that technologies are accessible to people with disabilities. The Access Board published standards for compliance with section 508 in 2000.

Since the both sets of guidelines were issued, new technologies have been developed. The Access Board created the Telecommunications and Electronic and IT Advisory Committee in 2006 to help craft the updates, and the committee presented its recommendations in April 2008.

The Access Board is accepting public comments on the draft regulations until June 21. On April 1, the board will conduct an online Webinar to review and explain the draft proposal.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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