January 25, 2018 | Written by: Michael Gower and Mary Jo Mueller
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In the United States, the Revised Section 508 Standards went into effect on January 18, 2018, a year after the U.S. Access Board published the final rule of the updated Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Standards and Guidelines.
The Revised 508 Standards, and the accompanying updates to Section 255 of the Communications Act, have transformed turn-of-the-century accessibility standards used for procurement and services of the US federal government.
The changes cover ICT developed, procured, maintained or used by the federal government, including computer hardware and software, websites, multimedia such as video, phone systems, and copiers. U.S. federal agencies are required to comply with the Revised 508 Standards (as of January 18, the anniversary of the publication in the U.S. Federal Register).
In regard to procurement, the Federal Acquisitions Regulatory (FAR) Council is undergoing a rulemaking process to update the federal procurement language to require the Revised 508 Standards. This rule is in progress and anticipated to be completed in the second quarter of 2018. The FCC is expected to go through a similar rulemaking process to require the Revised 508 Standards for ICT to meet Section 255 of the Communications Act.
What does this now mean for organizations that sell ICT to federal agencies?
This update has raised the accessibility “bar” for many agencies in the U.S. federal government, and the organizations like IBM that sell to them. Also, some agencies will not accept bids that omit product Accessibility Conformance Reports. The new VPAT 2.0 format includes the Revised Section 508 standards, WCAG 2.0 and the European EN 301 549 standard used for procurement.
IBM is well positioned to help organizations meet these requirements.
We have revamped the IBM Accessibility Checklist, which had already undergone significant transformation in anticipation of the final rule. Our unified checklist (v7.0) harmonizes U.S., European and other jurisdiction requirements. This guidance is publicly available and can be leveraged to help conform to the Revised 508 standards.
The checklist includes:
- Use of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), version 2.0 level A & AA, as the key means of assessing accessibility for all products, whether web-based content, non-web software, or electronic support documentation.
- Introduction of requirements for Authoring Tools; affects any web and non-web software application that allows authors or end-users to create new content.
- Web content, software, and both web-based and non-web electronic documentation in one unified checklist of guidance.
Note: Hardware and functional performance criteria, parts of the 508 standard, are currently not included in the checklist; back-office hardware equipment, such as servers, is exempt.
Looking into 2018, IBM will also actively be involved in efforts to analyze the differences between the Revised 508 Standards and the European EN 301 549 procurement standard and make recommendations to improve harmonization between the two. These recommendations will influence revisions made to the European standard in an update that is currently under way and will continue in a second phase of updates that will begin later this year.
Accessibility Tools and Guidance
IBM has also created a wide array of accessibility solutions and best practices that make it easier for designers, developers and testers to speed development efforts and help conform to industry accessibility standards.