IT accessibility regulations to be published next week

Final regulations aimed at making federal information systems more accessible to federal employees with disabilities will appear in the Federal Register Thursday, Dec. 21. Information technology vendors will have six months from that date to make their products comply with the new regulations. The new standards revise Section 508 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. The act requires agencies to ensure that federal employees with disabilities have access to information, computers and networks comparable to the access enjoyed by federal employees without disabilities, unless it would cause an undue burden on an agency. The Office of Management and Budget cleared the long-awaited rules Wednesday afternoon. The proposed regulations were published in the Federal Register March 31. The final standards were crafted after a period for comments that helped the Access Board make the new regulations clearer. The Access Board is an independent agency that creates accessibility standards required by laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Architectural Barriers Act. "Industry was extremely helpful," said Doug Wakefield, an accessibility specialist with the Access Board. "It was not a comment period full of dissension. The final regulations are not going to be that much different than those that were originally proposed. We tried to organize the final regulations in a way that is clearer to read." A research brief from Input, a market research firm based in Chantilly, Va., cited concern from information technology vendors about the compliance certification process. Wakefield said that this is still unresolved. However, he pointed out that the Access Board's job was to write the standards--not to enforce them. The staff in charge of federal acquisition rules will be responsible for enforcing the standards once they are published, he said. "Companies say they are never going to make it and advocates say the companies never move fast enough," Wakefield said. "Somewhere, there's a happy medium." The Access Board will now help educate agencies and industry about the rules. It will also continue to revise the Section 508 rules as technology changes.
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