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Accessible Technology – Part 2

by | Feb 18, 2013 | Government IT, Government Solutions, Uncategorized | 0 comments

In the previous post we learned that Disabled Americans are the fastest growing minority group in America and that 20% of the total population has reported some type of disability and there are still many that are not reported or are counted separately like disabled veterans.  That sounds like a large number but let’s put that number to contrast.

During the 2010 United States Census, there were a total of 17,320,856 Asian Americans. This made Asian Americans 5.6 percent of the total American population. How about Black Americans?  They make up 12.6% of the total population.  So if you combined these two races you would come close to the number of Disabled Americans.

Just think if we built barriers that would not allow Asian Americans like me or Black Americans to fully utilize or leverage information technology.  Not only would it be considered a highly inflammatory discriminatory issue, the contribution to society and information technology itself would suffer a great loss.  Yet we continue to do just that with Disabled Americans.

What is being done?

Due to this growing problem all types of laws have been passed to address this issue.  Today I will discuss Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities. Inaccessible technology interferes with an ability to obtain and use information quickly and easily. Section 508 was enacted to eliminate barriers in information technology, open new opportunities for people with disabilities, and encourage development of technologies that will help achieve these goals. The law applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology. Under Section 508 (29 U.S.C. ‘794 d), agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to access available to others.

This law has been the standard for all federal agencies and the good news is that most all federal agencies have been working towards compliance.  The gap has been in the private sector companies who contract with the government to provide IT services.  That gap is now being enforced as the Office of Management and Budget sent its fourth memo in eight years telling agencies to be aware of and include Section 508 requirements in technology and acquisitions. The difference this time is OMB included a strategic plan with deadlines for agencies to meet.  The DoJ survey and other meetings found “agency Section 508 programs vary widely in maturity, with the primary challenges focused in three areas: understanding and applying standards; defining and measuring program success; and developing the workforce.”

To address those challenges, OMB laid out 11 goals for agencies:

  1. The General Services Administration will develop a plan to improve the Section508.gov portal to be a “one-stop shop” for information.
  2. Agencies will include an accessibility statement on all inter- and intranet websites.
  3. By March 24, each agency CIO shall give GSA the name of their Section 508 coordinator, and when a new coordinator is named, the agency CIO has 90 days to update GSA on the change.
  4. By March 1, the CIO Council’s Accessibility Committee will develop a standard governmentwide template for agencies to report baseline compliance of key measures for websites and procurements.
  5. The committee will create a template for agencies to do a baseline assessment of their 508 programs. The committee then will use the baseline to identify high-risk areas or common areas of needs across the government.
  6. Assessments are due from each agency by Dec. 31.
  7. Starting in third quarter of fiscal 2014, agencies tell OMB how they are improving their baseline 508 assessments.
  8. By June, GSA will update the reference manual for Section 508 coordinators to help them improve their job skills.
  9. By June, GSA will share with the CIO and CAO councils plans to improve buyaccessible.gov, and to increase its awareness across the government.
  10. By October, GSA will update 508 learning courses for acquisition workers.
  11. GSA and the Access Board will collaborate on the best way to get the word out about the new 508 standards once they are finalized

“A comprehensive approach to managing Section 508 along the full IT and acquisition lifecycles of an investment requires a long-term, consistent approach,” the memo stated. “The steps identified in this strategic plan … are the first steps to improving management of Section 508.”

In case you are interested, CLICK HERE to see the official memo

So who will this affect the most in short term?

  1. People who want to do business with the government will need to acquire the skill sets to address section 508
  2. Developers who want to work with the government will need training.
  3. Federal CIO’s will need to become more active in oversight.

 

More helpful Links:

For more information on Section 508 concerning checklists, remediation and monitoring tools, training, etc.  Feel free to email me at doug.loo@Armedia.com or comment on the post so I can share the information.

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