Accessibility Policy and Regulation Outlook 2016

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Many people worldwide approach a new year by making resolutions: learning something new, making a life change for the better, or making changes to old goals.

In my work life I try to do the same by setting goals for accomplishments that will make a difference. One of those goals is to make forward progress in accessibility technology for all people.

As the Accessibility Standards Program Manager, sometimes work goals are hindered by the slow movement in government policies and standards that we strive to push forward. For every year of delay, the danger of standards being outpaced by emerging new technologies grows, and that can lead to a widening gap in accessible technology. 2016 could turn out to be a watershed year with the potential of two major events completed by the year’s end.

1) Section 508 Refresh – an update to the rule established in 2000 for Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act.

The Section 508 rule set the requirements to use in U.S. government procurement of accessible technologies. It has been undergoing a major update, known as the 508 Refresh, to include the latest developments in software, web, and hardware standards.

The 508 Refresh is nearing its completion, potentially before the end of this year. At the January 13, 2015 U.S. Access Board meeting the Information and Communication Technology ad hoc committee reported that the 508 refresh technical requirements were undergoing an internal review to be completed by January 28, 2015. This is the projected timeline, based on our current knowledge and the Access Board’s Fall 2015 Regulatory Agenda:Table with two columns: Milestone and Projected Date. Line 1: US Access Board completes Section 508 requirements, Jan. 2016. Line 2: US Access Board begins Section 508 preamble, Feb. 2016. Line 3: Office of Management and Budget (OMB) review begins, May 2016. LIne 4: OMB completes review, Early Sept. 2016*. Line 5: US Access Board incorporates OMB comments, Mid-Sept. 2016. Line 6: Final Rule Published in the Federal Registry, Oct. 2016. Line 7: New Section 508 rule Enforced, April 2017.

*NOTE: The OMB will likely take extra time to complete its review as the President’s term comes to an end. This is a time when many regulations that are important to the White House are submitted to the OMB for review. This creates a backlog that causes difficulty in predicting exactly when the Section 508 Rule will be approved.

2) European Accessibility Act (EAA) – will be the basis for European Union (EU) member states to create new laws, regulations, and administrative provisions for accessible products and services in support of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

The EAA also aims to eliminate regulatory fragmentation among EU member states so that products and services that meet the requirements of the EAA can be made available in all EU member states. The first draft of the Directive was published for public comment on December 3, 2015.

The current scope of products and services the EAA proposal covers include:

  • Computers and operating systems
  • Telephones and smartphones as well as telephony services and related equipment
  • TV equipment related to digital television services
  • Audio-visual media services, such as television broadcasts and related consumer equipment
  • E-books
  • E-commerce
  • Banking services
  • ATMs, ticketing and check-in machines
  • Services related to air, bus, rail and waterborne passenger transportation

The EAA proposes a strong market access regulation. Any products or services considered in the scope of the EAA must be made fully accessible to be placed on the market, including products and services procured by government agencies. The EAA also proposes that fully compliant products would carry the CE-marking. However, the CE-marking doesn’t bring any value to the customer, as non-compliant products covered by the EAA could not be offered for sale.

However, there are many very complex products on the market where full accessibility compliance will be difficult, if not impossible, to fully test and claim – especially for products that contain millions of lines of code.

In addition, many products and services are delivered on the Web, where with an agile or continuous delivery model the content changes on a monthly, weekly, daily or even hourly basis. It will be very difficult to ensure these products and services are always fully accessible – and able to continuously carry the CE-marking.

The projected timeline for the European Accessibility Act is as follows:Table with two columns: Milestone and Projected Date. Line 1: European Accessibility Act (EAA) first draft, Dec. 3, 2015. Line 2: Public comments due: Feb. 2, 2016. Line 3: Final EAA, Dec. 2016. Line 4: Individual EU State Adoption, By Dec. 2018. Line 5: Individual EU State Enforcement (4 years from adoption), By Dec. 2022.

It will be interesting to see how these regulations play out over the course of 2016 and beyond. It is important to ensure technology is available to everyone that needs it so we can tap into the human potential of a growing population of people with disabilities in our community.

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