Today, January 18, 2018 new website accessibility requirements (such as screen reader compatibility for hearing and sight impaired) for federal websites became effective.
The U.S. Access Board in a published final rule updating accessibility requirements for information and communication technology (ICT) covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act became effective today.
Updated Section 508 Standards for Federal ICT
The Access Board’s final rule revises and refreshes its standards for information and communication technology in the federal sector covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The Board’s Section 508 Standards, which were first issued in 2000, apply to ICT developed, procured, maintained, or used by federal agencies. Examples include computers, telecommunications equipment, multifunction office machines such as copiers that also function as printers, software, websites, information kiosks and transaction machines, and electronic documents.
Goals of the Refresh
The Board updated the 508 Standards and 255 Guidelines jointly to ensure consistency in accessibility across the spectrum of information and communication technologies (ICT) covered. Other goals of this refresh include:
- enhancing accessibility to ICT for people with disabilities;
- making the requirements easier to understand and follow;
- updating the requirements so that they stay abreast of the ever-changing nature of the technologies covered; and
- harmonizing the requirements with other standards in the U.S. and abroad.
The final rule revises both the structure and substance of the ICT requirements to further accessibility, facilitate compliance, and make the document easier to use. Major changes include:
- restructuring provisions by functionality instead of product type due to the increasingly multi-functional capabilities of ICT;
- incorporating the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 by reference and applying Level A and Level AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements to websites, as well as to non-web electronic documents and software;
- specifying the types of non-public facing electronic content that must comply;
- requiring that operating systems provide certain accessibility features;
- clarifying that software and operating systems must interoperate with assistive technology (such as screen magnification software and refreshable braille displays);
- addressing access for people with cognitive, language, and learning disabilities; and
- harmonizing the requirements with international standards.
Incorporation of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
The final rule incorporates by reference a number of voluntary consensus standards, including WCAG 2.0. Issued by the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative, WCAG 2.0 is a globally recognized, technology-neutral standard for web content. The final rule applies WCAG 2.0 not only to web-based content, but to all electronic content. The benefits of incorporating the WCAG 2.0 into the Section 508 Standards and the 255 Guidelines and applying it in this manner are significant. WCAG 2.0 addresses new technologies and recognizes that the characteristics of products, such as native browser behavior and plug-ins and applets, have converged over time. A substantial amount of WCAG 2.0 support material is available, and WCAG 2.0-compliant accessibility features are already built into many products. Further, use of WCAG 2.0 promotes international harmonization as it is referenced by, or the basis for, standards issued by the European Commission, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Germany, and France.