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Access Board issues final rule updating accessibility requirements for technology

January 25th, 2017  |  Deborah Hammonds

Seeking to ensure accessibility and usability of information and communication technology, the Access Board recently released the final rule updating accessibility requirements for information and communication technology (ICT) in the federal sector covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. The guidelines for telecommunications equipment subject to Section 255 of the Communications Act are also affected.

Published in the Federal Register on January 18, 2017 (82 FR 5790-5841), 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 final rule 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 have also been made to improve ICT usability, including interoperability with assistive technologies, and to clarify the types of ICT covered, such as electronic documents.

According to the Board, this refresh also harmonizes the requirements of Section 508 and Section 255 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.

Access Board Executive Director David M. Capozzi said the Board worked very hard throughout the process to “ensure consistency with other consensus guidelines and international standards to promote global harmonization and facilitate compliance.”

“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,” stated 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.”

A proposed version of the rule was released for public comment in February 2015. 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 becomes effective on March 20, 2017. However, compliance with the section 508-based standards is not required until January 18, 2018. Compliance with the section 255-based guidelines is not required until the guidelines are adopted by the Federal Communications Commission.

The Board will conduct a webinar on the rule on February 2.

For further information, contact Timothy Creagan at (202) 272-0016 (v), (202) 272-0074 (TTY), or visit the Access Board’s website.

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