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CHIPS Articles: Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act: What You Need to Know

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act: What You Need to Know
By Sherrian Finneran - April-June 2011
Section 508: Why Comply?

It's the law! Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, as amended by the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, requires federal departments and agencies to ensure that electronic and information technology (E&IT) developed, procured, maintained, or used provides: (1) individuals with disabilities, who are federal employees, comparable access to and use of information and data that is available to federal employees who are not individuals with disabilities; and (2) individuals with disabilities, who are members of the public seeking information or services, to have comparable access to and use of information and data by such members of the public who are not individuals with disabilities.

Comparable access is not required if it would impose an undue burden on the department or agency. National Security Systems that comply with the definition in section 5142 of the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 are exempt from Section 508 requirements.

It's the Right Thing to Do

Consider these statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau regarding people with disabilities: • 29 million (10 percent of the population) are deaf or hearing impaired.
• 11.4 million people have visual conditions not correctable by eyeglasses.
• 6.4 million new cases of eye disease occur each year.
• 2.8 million people are visually handicapped from color blindness.
• 1.1 million people are legally blind.

Website Accessibility

Section 508 requires that all website content be equally accessible to people with disabilities. This applies to Web applications and Web pages and all attached files. It applies to intranet, as well as public-facing Web pages. Websites must comply with U.S. Access Board Standard 1194.22 for Web-based intranet and Internet information and applications. In an effort to ensure that Department of Defense websites meet minimum requirements, the office of the DoD Deputy CIO conducts quarterly reviews of DoD component websites. Results are shared with component Section 508 coordinators and website administrators.

Procurement Oversight

The General Services Administration (GSA) is randomly sampling E&IT solicitations posted on FedBizOpps.gov to assess the extent to which solicitations properly consider Section 508 standards. After the assessment, GSA will send an e-mail to the originating agency explaining how the selected solicitation was assessed. Quarterly summaries of the findings are sent to the Office of Management and Budget. Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Part 39, Acquisition of Information Technology, subpart 39.201, states that Section 508 must be addressed in all solicitations to purchase E&IT. The FAR requires agencies to acquire accessible E&IT unless an exception applies, in which case the requiring official must provide documentation to the contracting officer for inclusion in the contract file.

Buy Accessible Wizard

The Buy Accessible Wizard is a tool developed by the GSA to help construct Section 508 standard-compliant requirements and solicitations for E&IT products and services. Additionally, the tool can help you determine whether Section 508 applies to your purchase, and it can even write the solicitation language for you. The Buy Accessible Wizard leads you through a step-by-step process to document compliance with Section 508 standards effectively, consistently and efficiently. The data summary report produced using the wizard serves as a compliance audit trail documenting decisions made concerning relevance, applicability, market research and exceptions as a demonstration of due diligence for compliance. Additional information on the Buy Accessible Wizard is available at www.buyaccessible.gov.

Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program

The Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP) (www.tricare.osd.mil/cap/), in the office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, was established to eliminate employment barriers for people with disabilities. CAP helps by providing assistive technology and services at no cost to the agency. To assist with Section 508 compliance, CAP provides:
• Technical assistance to all DoD and partner organizations;
• Demonstrations of assistive technology and accessible environments at the CAP Technology Evaluation Center (CAPTEC); and
• Assistance to office automation organizations to ensure help desk personnel understand accessibility requirements and compatibility issues.

Section 508 is not only the law; it is the right thing to do. Taking care of our people is a Department of the Navy priority. Compliance with Section 508 also ensures equal access for the DON’s workforce, whose needs may change over time, and new hires, including those who may come from the Wounded Warrior Program. It is important that all DON personnel do their part in keeping the department’s electronic information equally accessible to all.

Sherrian Finneran is the DON Section 508 coordinator.

References
-- In 1986, Congress added Section 508 to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 508 established non-binding guidelines for information technology accessibility. On Aug. 7, 1998, the president signed into law the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-220) that included the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998. These amendments significantly expanded and strengthened the IT accessibility requirements in Section 508, and made them binding for federal agencies.
-- In the Federal Register of Dec. 21, 2000, the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) published the Electronic and Information Technology (E&IT) Accessibility Standards; final rule (36 CFR Part 1194). These standards became effective June 21, 2001.
-- In the Federal Register of April 25, 2001, the Civilian Agency Acquisition Council and the Defense Acquisition Regulations Council published a final rule amending the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility (48 CFR, Chapter 1, Parts 2, 7, 10, 11, 12 and 39). These regulations became effective June 25, 2001.

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