Ensuring Your Solicitation is Section 508 Compliant

By Sherrian Finneran - Published, October 27, 2011

Since 1998, when Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act, all federal agencies, including the Department of Defense, are required to make electronic and information technology (E&IT) accessible to individuals with disabilities. The law applies to all federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology.

Accessible E&IT includes technologies that allow those who are blind or visually impaired to easily obtain information on websites and participate in online training. Exceptions to compliance are identified by the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), part 1194, as detailed below.

In June 2011, the Department of Defense Chief Information Officer published DoD Manual, 8400.01-M, "Procedures for Ensuring the Accessibility of Electronic and Information Technology (E&IT) Procured by DoD Organizations." The manual, available at www.dtic.mil/whs/directives/corres/pdf/840001m.pdf, assigns responsibilities and provides procedures for implementing Section 508 requirements.

The manual provides guidance to requiring officials, purchasers and requesters to ensure that their acquisition meets U.S. Access Board accessibility standards unless a FAR exception applies. Requiring officials must conduct market research to find products or services that meet the standards. Market research results must be attached to the purchase request or, in the case of a contract for services, the statement of work (SOW). Requiring officials must also include draft technical specifications, minimum requirements and a statement of applicable U.S. Access Board standards. If it applies, officials must include a statement documenting non-availability of accessible products or services, or include a statement that meeting accessibility requirements causes an undue burden for the agency.

Contracting officers or procurement officials are instructed to review SOWs and purchase requests to ensure that Section 508 requirements are properly addressed and that applicable documents are provided by the requiring office.

In July 2010, the Office of Management and Budget issued a memo, "Improving the Accessibility of Government Information," directing agencies to take stronger steps toward improving the acquisition and implementation of accessible technology. The memo directed the General Services Administration (GSA) Office of Governmentwide Policy to review solicitations posted on the federal business opportunities website, FedBizOpps.gov, for compliance with Section 508 and to report the results of the reviews quarterly to OMB beginning fiscal year 2011.

GSA is also directed to provide review results to applicable agencies. Since that time, GSA sends emails to agencies either congratulating them for a job well done or providing them with opportunities to improve their solicitations for compliance with Section 508.

There are a number of resources to assist agencies in their compliance with Section 508. As part of its statutory requirement, GSA provides technical assistance to agencies on Section 508 implementation. GSA created a number of tools, available at www.Section508.gov, to help agencies develop accessible requirements, test the acceptance process, and share lessons learned and best practices.

Users may also access training by clicking the 508 Universe Training link, www.section508.gov/index.cfm?FuseAction=RegisterUniverse, which provides multiple courses on how to develop accessible Web pages, as well as compliant solicitations. In addition, the website includes answers to frequently asked questions about acquisition.

The Buy Accessible Wizard tool (www.buyaccessible.gov) assists government personnel in completing the market research necessary to ensure they are buying the most accessible IT products and services available. Users are able to search the site, using Quick Links, by specific product or service type and see all the vendors who have provided links to their Section 508 compliant products. These same links may be used to access government product/service accessibility templates.

The tool also produces suggested solicitation language tailored to specific E&IT deliverables that may be used in procurement documentation. Training for the Buy Accessible Wizard is available in the Section 508 Universe Training section of the Section508.gov website. The Quick Links site, located at https://app.buyaccessible.gov/baw/Quick-Links/index.jsp, provides quick and easy pre-packaged Section 508 documentation.

Finally, the U.S. Access Board website, www.access-board.gov, provides additional resources to assist agencies in ensuring compliance with Section 508 accessibility requirements.

Sherrian Finneran is the DON Section 508 coordinator.

Federal Acquisition Regulation Exceptions:

Unless an exception of FAR 39.204 applies, acquisitions of E&IT supplies and services must meet the applicable accessibility standards of 36 CFR part 1194. The exceptions in 39.204 include:

• Micro-purchases, prior to Jan. 1, 2003. However, for micro-purchases, contracting officers and other individuals designated in accordance with 1.603-3 are strongly encouraged to comply with the applicable accessibility standards to the maximum extent practicable;
• E&IT for a national security system;
• E&IT acquired by a contractor incidental to a contract;
• E&IT located in spaces frequented only by service personnel for maintenance, repair or occasional monitoring of equipment; and
• E&IT that would impose an undue burden on the agency.

For additional information regarding exceptions visit www.section508.gov.

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