Obama Administration Releases Major Update To Section 508, Mandates Web Accessibility for People with Disabilities

The Obama Administration has just released a major regulatory rule updating the standards federal agency websites will need to meet in order to adhere to the requirements outlined in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, according to the Access Board’s Twitter account.

OMB just cleared @AccessBoard final rule updating standards & telecom guidelines! Rule to be published soon – details to follow.

The new regulations require federal agencies to adjust procurement procedures so that all new websites adhere to the Web Content Accessibility Standards (WCAG 2.0), an expansive, but carefully-developed specification that ensures usability while allowing developers considerable flexibility. The rule brings U.S. policy in line with that of over thirty countries and is the result of over a decade of collaboration between the technology industry, the disability community, and businesses.

We expect this announcement to have significant implications for a wide range of businesses and organizations. Recent federal court cases and Justice Department actions indicate that this rule will be the de facto standard for private entities despite the fact that the official rulemaking for private entities has been delayed until 2018.

The U.S. Access Board submitted the regulations on October 24th, 2016. The Office of Management and Budget approved the final rule on January 5th, 2017. This is the first update to the initial regulations, which were published 16 years ago.

EveryBill will release an expanded analysis in the coming days.

Learn more about accessibility here.

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SECTION 508 GETS ICT UPGRADE TO MATCH WCAG LEVEL A & AA STANDARDS

In a move welcomed by disability groups and advocates, the U.S. Access Board has updated their accessibility requirements for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) within Section-508 of the Rehabilitation Act, to bring it into line with European and WCAG (Level A, AA) standards.

Access stamp

Access stamp

The new rule was announced 9 January 2017 and is in response to market trends and innovations, such as the convergence of technologies. The refresh also harmonizes these requirements with other guidelines and standards both in the U.S. and abroad, including standards issued by the European Commission and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) the globally-recognised consensus standard for web content and ICT.

The U.S. Access Board’s final ruling(link is external) also refreshes guidelines for telecommunications equipment subject to Section 255 of the Communications Act. Indeed, the ruling references Level A and Level AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements in WCAG 2.0 and applies them not only to websites but also to electronic documents and software.

“This is a key development to ensure that ICT which is developed, procured, maintained or used by federal agencies in the US is accessible to, and usable by, people with disabilities,” says Natalie Collins, the Deputy CEO of Media Access Australia.

“Specifically, they have updated the Act to deal with convergence and the functionality according to disability rather than by product type,” she said. “Revisions are also made to improve ICT usability, including interoperability with assistive technologies, and to clarify the types of ICT covered, such as electronic documents, which is a very welcome move.”

“Hopefully, what will happen is that more and more software apps that are developed by US vendors which are required to make their apps accessible in the US, will flow through to Australia, benefiting those with a disability here as well,” adds Collins.

For further information on this new development in the US, you can visit the Access Board’s website(link is external).