Finally the 508 Refresh is Complete

No more Waiting

Yes, its final over, the waiting is done. After almost two decades Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act has a rule change which goes into effect as of January 18, 2017.  Though the rule, created by the Access Board.  As written, 508 does not automatically apply to institutions of higher education, even if they receive federal funding. However, States that receive funds through the Assistive Technology Act are required to comply with 508, and all states in the United States receive Tech Act funds.  The refresh updates the current ICT Standards and Guidelines.

 

The final rule updates the existing Section 508 standards and Section 255 guidelines using the most recent version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0)[3] and other consensus standards for specific applications, content, and equipment to define the core set of accessibility requirements not only for Federal agency Web sites, but also for non-Web software applications and authoring tools, data processing and communications hardware, telecommunications equipment, and electronic content procured, developed, maintained, or used by the Federal Government. The final rule specifically requires ICT and specified forms of electronic content produced using these programs and systems to meet the Level A and Level AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements specified for Web pages in WCAG 2.0.

Making the changes due to changes in technology, the US government recognizes that accessibility is not an add-on, bolt-on addition to government services and information, but rather it is a right of Americans to have built-in accessibility. Many people still have the mindset of ad hoc repairs to electronic information, websites and applications; but these federal guidelines enforce access out of the box.

The difference between accommodating individuals with disabilities and making everything accessible is a powerful change. Holding to new standards is a significant step in ensuring your institution information and computer technologies are accessible to all users.  The ruling does provide a safe harbor provision which basically allows elements that are not compliant with the new standard, but were created after the rule goes into effect; however, any aspect created before the new ruling has to be 508 compliant, under the old standard.

As expected the Access Board revised the Section 508 Standards  to make them harmonize with WCAG 2.0.  Under the proposal, these web standards will also apply to software applications, data processing and communication hardware and telecommunications equipment.  The main reason for the need was due to the fact that the old 508 standards were neither testable or measureable.  The WCAG 2.0 standard gives much needed definition.  Many universities and state governmental agencies have been working toward this level of access for years.  Only institutions that have resisted taking the time and spending the money to make their websites and information accessible will really feel the pinch.

Where the changes will hit hardest especially will be video content. Captioning will be mandatory.  Deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans will be able to understand content generate by the government agencies, the Whitehouse, and the congress.  They will no longer be left out.  Applications and websites will also require accessibility to be built in.  Blind and visually impaired computer users will need seamless accessibility for finding records, completing forms, receiving announcements and events, correspondence, legal work and other important communications.

The deadline for the federal government and those working in federal grant programs is Jan. 18, 2018.

What is Section 508?

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended by Congress in 1998, required that federal employees with disabilities have access to and use of information and data. Comparable to that for Federal employees without disabilities, unless it is an undue burden to do so. It also requires that disabled members of the public who are seeking information and services from a Federal agency, to have access to and use of information and data comparable to that for members of the public with disabilities.  The law applies to Federal agencies and contractors providing products or services.  30 US state have adopted the 508 ICT standards. (See checklist)

In short electronic information and data must be equally accessible to individuals with and without disabilities.  The idea that classroom materials don’t have to be made accessible if no one with a disability is taking the class may soon be eliminated.  From next year on, schools and universities will have not excuse for not making the information and computer technologies including digital classroom content accessible.