By Rosemary Musachio, Ruh Global Communications, Chief Accessibility Officer
Government departments, federal agencies, and federal contractors still abide by Section 508 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, even though the provisions don’t reflect modern technological advancements or are comparable with international standards. In 2010, the U.S. Access Board realized Section 508 needed to be updated to meet the ever changing technological needs of persons with disabilities. The update is officially called Section 508, or ICT (Information and Communication Technology) Refresh.
Six years later the gleam in the Access Board’s eye is becoming reality. It has gone through four delays, more officially known as Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), since then due to further comments on emerging technology and comparability with European accessibility laws. On September 14, 2016, the Access Board finally approved the ICT Refresh. No longer will we have to hold our breath that the Access Board may say “Wait, Apple has launched a sonic version of the ipad. We need comments on it.” The Access Board has handed over the ICT Refresh to The U.S Office of Budget Management (OBM) for approval, which hopefully will occur in six months
Since many U.S. companies want their products to comply both with Section 508 and Worldwide Web Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0), the ICT Refresh is comparable, or harmonizes, with the success criteria of WCAG 2.0. In fact, the latest version of the Refresh refers to WCAG 2.0 many times. For instance, in Section E207.2 the following is stated:
“WCAG Conformance: User interface components and content of platforms and applications shall conform to Level A and Level AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements specified for web pages in WCAG 2.0..”
Below are two examples of the harmonization.
Provision 502 of Section 508 Refresh
Sub-guidelines and Techniques of WCAG 2.0 Guidelines
18.104.22.168 Label Relationships. The relationship that a component has as a label for another component, or of being labeled by another component, shall be programmatically determinable.
1.3.1 Info and Relationships: Information, structure, and relationships conveyed through presentation can be programmatically determined or are available in text. (Level A)
502.2.2 Row, Column, and Headers. The row and column an object is in, and the headers for the row and column for that component, if it is in a data table that has row or column headers, shall be programmatically determinable.
H51: Using table markup to present tabular information.
502.2.1 Object Information. The object role, state(s), boundary, name, and description shall be programmatically determinable.
4.1.2 Name, Role, Value: For all user interface components (including but not limited to: form elements, links and components generated by scripts), the name and role can be programmatically determined; states, properties, and values that can be set by the user can be programmatically set; and notification of changes to these items is available to user agents, including assistive technologies. (Level A).
Besides harmonizing with the success criteria of WCAG 2.0, which are geared towards web, software, and mobile applications, the Access Board wanted the ICT Refresh to focus on computers, operating systems, televisions, kiosks, and e-books. This would prevent accessibility auditors and IT managers from asking, “Should I apply the Software sub-provisions of 1194.21 or Web Applications 1194.22 to this product?” With emerging technologies, the 1194.31 Functional Performance sub-provisions have been like the miscellaneous file for everything that doesn’t fit one of the other existing Section 508 sub-provisions.
The ICT Refresh isn’t only an update to Section 508; it also revamps Section 225 that covers telecommunication products and services. For instance, whereas the current version of Section 225 only includes TTYs (telecommunication devices), which are becoming extinct, the ICT Refresh also includes guidelines for real-time text (RTT) and relay services through Internet Providers. The ICT Refresh further resolves overlapping issues between Sections 225 and 508, such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) devices that have web-based interfaces.
When the ICT Refresh finally becomes official, it will have a positive economic impact. E&IT (electronic and information technology) products that are developed in America could be procured overseas even if they were tested for compliance of Section 508 Refresh only and not European guidelines also since the Refresh standards are based on the worldwide guidelines of WCAG 2.0. Consequently, companies will save money and time by testing a product against only one set of standards instead of two. The same concept would apply to overseas companies who sell their E&IT products to America.
Since the ICT Refresh will increase the accessibility and the quality of accessibility for federal-based products and services, more consumers with disabilities will use them successfully. Consequently, profits will rise and legal complaints will decrease. Additionally, productivity of federal employees with disabilities will improve greatly since they would be able to operate computers and printers, for instance, easier and more efficiently.
Ultimately, the positive effects of the ICT Refresh will influence the American business industry to follow suit. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been the basis of many lawsuits in recent years, the 26-year law still doesn’t include specifications on how technology can be made accessible. The ICT Refresh hopefully will be interwoven in the ADA so technological accessibility can be clearly addressed not only in the government sector but also throughout America’s business sector.
Learn more about our work at www.RuhGlobal.com or follow us on Social Media @rosemusachio, @debraruh and @ruhglobal on most channels.
#AXSChat: Join Debra Ruh, Neil Milliken, and Antonio Santos for a weekly Twitter Chat on Disability Inclusion, ICT Accessibility, Built Environment, CRPD, Empowerment and Employment. Just search the hashtag #AXSChat at 3pmEST and join the conversation. You can learn more about AXSChat at www.AXSChat.com.