Delay in IT accessibility standards expected

klunney@govexec.com

A Senate amendment tacked onto a military appropriations bill may give agencies more time to provide assistive technology for federal employees with disabilities.

Sen. James Jeffords, R-Vt., added the amendment to H.R. 4425, and acceptance by a House-Senate conference committee is expected. The current deadline for compliance is August, but the amendment could delay implementation of the standards until as late as March.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires agencies to ensure that federal employees with disabilities have access to information and to computers and networks comparable to the access enjoyed by employees without disabilities, unless it would cause an undue burden on an agency.

The Access Board, an independent agency that creates accessibility standards, was supposed to have issued regulations Feb. 7 and receive comment on them until May 31. Agencies would then have had until Aug. 7 to comply with the final standards. However, the board is now considering an extension on issuing final regulations until Sept. 30.

Jeffords' amendment will push the compliance date back to six months from whenever the final standards are issued. The delay could avoid a series of costly lawsuits.

General Services Administration is leading the Section 508 compliance effort and recently asked agencies to appoint compliance coordinators. GSA is offering free training to federal managers and Webmasters on how to comply with the standards, and will conduct several briefings for agency coordinators in June.

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