Much-anticipated final regulations
designed to make information technology more accessible to federal employees with disabilities were published Wednesday in the Federal Register
. Under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998, agencies are required to ensure that federal employees and members of the public with disabilities, such as hearing or vision impairment, have access to information, computers and networks comparable to the access enjoyed by people without disabilities, assuming doing so would not cause an undue burden on an agency. The accessibility regulations, which become effective on June 20, also require changes in federal procurement policy, since procurement officials must ensure that purchased technology is Section 508-compliant. "It has huge ramifications," said Olga Grkavac, executive vice president of the Information Technology Association of America. "We're very supportive, but I think we are also concerned. We don't want to see any slowdown in terms of the government contracting process while people are trying to comply with the letter of the law." The final rules differ in significant ways from proposed rules published in January. Procurement officials had originally suggested that the regulation apply only to contracts solicited, not awarded, after the effective date. But the final regulations state that all contracts awarded after June 25 must be Section 508-compliant. Therefore, contracts that have already been solicited and are to be awarded sometime after June 25 must be reviewed to ensure they are Section 508-compliant. "We were surprised that it applies to contracts awarded after June 25," Grkavac said. "We had hoped it would [apply] to solicitations issued after the effective date. That would give individuals and the government time to ascertain that they were meeting government standards. We were trying to have as seamless a change a possible." Grkavac praised the FAR (Federal Acquisition Regulation) Council on its decision to exempt off-the-shelf "micropurchases" made with the governmentwide commercial purchase card from the accessibility regulations until Jan. 1, 2003, when assistive technology is expected to be the industry standard. Micropurchases are defined as purchases of less than $2,500.