IT accessibility standards stir industry opposition

New rules to make government information and technology accessible to disabled citizens and government workers have high-tech firms frantic about their effect on competitiveness and the difficulty in meeting the deadline for compliance. "I think we're on the brink of a new era," said a source at one large software industry company. "With these rules, the software industry for the first time becomes a regulated industry." The controversial final rules, mandated under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998, were published in late December. The U.S. Access Board, which is tasked with making both the online and bricks-and-mortar worlds more accessible to the disabled, promulgated the rules late last year, and the White House Office of Management and Budget later approved them. Industry sources said the new rules might hinder competitiveness and creativity in the development of new products, which they said has flourished in the absence of government intervention. "The government for the first time is mandating the feature set of software through its purchasing power," one software industry source said. Companies are not going to produce separate versions for government and non-governmental purchasers, he said. So even though the new rules technically only apply to software used in federal contracts, the rule effectively mandates software changes in both the public and private sectors for any companies that do business with the government. There is also concern about how the government will implement the rule, sources said. Companies want to continue to self-certify, which allows them to "rev" products faster. These new releases can come as often as every six months. If products must be approved by an in-house federal testing center, it could add significantly to product life cycles, the source said. While industry sources stressed strong support for disabled access and mentioned the many ways they have worked to improve that access, they are nevertheless seriously concerned about the new rules. Patrick Melody, a spokesman at the Business Software Alliance, said the regulations might be "overreaching." Companies' compliance is enforceable as of June 21, which will be difficult to meet given the requirement that companies not only ensure product accessibility but interoperability with other products as well, noted Ted Karle, an e-commerce lobbyist at the Software and Information Industry Association. He also noted that product standardization for accessibility could raise competition issues as one company might win out. Jason Mahler, vice president and general counsel at the Computer and Communications Industry Association, said, "We want to do what is possible and what is feasible, but that may not always make complete accessibility possible." He noted that the Web is still in its infancy, technologies are still being formulated and some sites are struggling to get started, so "we want to make sure no undue burdens are placed on Web sites." One software industry source said the rules might lead to a number of lawsuits filed by federal employees against the government for failure to comply.
Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.