Access For All: An Update

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January this year saw the US Access Board update the accessibility requirements for information and communication technology to meet the changing needs of those with disabilities. This welcome move aims to harmonize guidelines and standards in the US, Europe and throughout the world.

For a company such as Amnet, that has been prioritizing the accessibility agenda, the move is a defining moment; marking a set of standards that enhance user experience for all.

This rule addresses the advances in information and communication technology that have occurred since guidelines were first issued in 1998 and attempts to unify accessibility requirements that have been developing on an ad hoc basis across the globe since the 1990s. The Access Board has issued the following press statement:

“We, the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, are revising and updating, in a single rulemaking, our standards for electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by Federal agencies covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as well as our guidelines for telecommunications equipment and customer premises equipment covered by Section 255 of the Communications Act of 1934. The revisions and updates to the Section 508-based standards and section 255-based guidelines are intended to ensure that information and communication technology covered by the respective statutes is accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.

“‘This update is essential to ensure that the Board’s Section 508 standards and the Communications Act guidelines keep pace with the ever-changing technologies covered and continue to meet the access needs of people with disabilities,’ states Sachin Pavithran, Chair of the Board’s ICT ad hoc committee. ‘The Access Board is grateful for the input it received from the public and stakeholders throughout the rulemaking process which greatly enhanced the final product.’

“The rule jointly updates and reorganizes the Section 508 standards and Section 255 guidelines in response to market trends and innovations, such as the convergence of technologies. The refresh also harmonizes these requirements with other guidelines and standards both in the U.S. and abroad, including standards issued by the European Commission and with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a globally recognized voluntary consensus standard for web content and ICT. In fact, the rule references Level A and Level AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements in WCAG 2.0 and applies them not only to websites, but also to electronic documents and software. 

“’Throughout this process,’ according to Access Board Executive Director David M. Capozzi, ‘the Board worked very hard to ensure consistency with other consensus guidelines and international standards to promote global harmonization and facilitate compliance.’ He noted that, ‘ICT requirements that are closely aligned remove ambiguity, increase marketplace competition, and lead to better accessibility features and outcomes.’ 

“The updated requirements specify the technologies covered and provide both performance-based and technical requirements for hardware, software, and support documentation and services. Access is addressed for all types of disabilities, including those pertaining to vision, hearing, color perception, speech, cognition, manual dexterity, and reach. The rule, which will be published later this month in the Federal Register, restructures provisions so that they are categorized by functionality instead of by product type due to the increasingly multi-functional capabilities of ICT products. Revisions are also made to improve ICT usability, including interoperability with assistive technologies, and to clarify the types of ICT covered, such as electronic documents. 

“The Board released a proposed version of the rule for public comment in February 2015 and, before that, earlier drafts of the rule. The rule is based on recommendations from an advisory panel the Board chartered, the Telecommunications and Electronic and Information Technology Advisory Committee which included representatives from industry, disability groups, government agencies, foreign countries, and other stakeholders. 

“The rule will take effect in one year. The Section 508 standards, which are incorporated into the federal government’s procurement regulations, apply to ICT procured, developed, maintained, or used by federal agencies. The Communications Act guidelines cover telephones, cell phones, pagers, computers with modems, switching equipment and other telecommunications equipment.”

The ruling is significant because countries have been developing their own set of standards as and when the need arose. The Accessibility Executive Breakfast 2016, hosted by Amnet, gathered industry experts to discuss how this lack of coordination has left many companies open to litigation from users who feel they are at best, disadvantaged and at worst, discriminated against for their disability. Amnet’s team and guest speakers at the conference pressed home this point; and that Amnet offers companies options to update digital content.

In light of this new ruling, Amnet’s experts are delighted that the Access Board has taken the step to provide a legal, standardized guide for the US and wider world. The Access Board will conduct a webinar on February 2 to aid understanding and implementation. If you would like to benefit from Amnet’s expertise in accessible content and design, especially in light of this rule update, please contact us.