U.S. Access Board Proposes ICT Update

By Guest Blogger David Baquis, U.S. Access Board

In February, the U.S. Access Board, an independent federal agency, released a proposed rule to update accessibility requirements for information and communication technologies (ICT). Long in the making, this proposal is the culmination of a decade of effort that began with recommendations from an advisory committee organized by the Board, the Telecommunications and Electronic and Information Technology Advisory Committee which comprised a broad cross-section of stakeholders representing industry, disability groups, government agencies, and other countries.

The proposal, which is officially known as a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), refreshes standards for electronic and information technology in the federal sector covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It also updates guidelines for telecommunications equipment issued under Section 255 of the Communications Act of 1934. The Board is updating both documents jointly to ensure consistency in accessibility across the spectrum of ICT covered, including computers, telecommunications equipment, multifunction office machines, software, websites, information kiosks and transaction machines, and electronic documents. Examples of ICT accessibility include captioning of videos, providing controls for captioning and audio description, and compatibility of websites, documents and software with assistive technology.

The proposed rule contains performance-based criteria as well as technical requirements for hardware, software, and support documentation and services. Access is addressed for all types of disabilities, including those pertaining to vision, hearing, speech and manual dexterity.

The proposed rule updates various requirements to address fundamental shifts and trends in the market, such as the convergence of technologies and the increasingly multi-functional capabilities of products like smart phones. Another key goal of this update is to promote consistency with other requirements in the U.S. and abroad in order to improve accessibility and to facilitate compliance. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are incorporated by reference and are applied to web-based content, as well as to software and documents, including those that are offline.

The proposed rule includes parallel chapters separately addressing application and scoping of the Section 508 Standards and the Section 255 Guidelines (Chapters 1 and 2). These sections reference functional performance criteria (Chapter 3), technical requirements for hardware and software (Chapters 4 and 5) and criteria for support documentation and services (Chapter 6). The functional performance criteria of Chapter 3 are outcome-based provisions that address accessibility relevant to disabilities impacting vision, hearing, color perception, speech, manual dexterity, reach and strength. The online version of the rule includes guidance in the form of advisory notes to further explain or clarify the requirements.

The Board seeks public comment on the proposed rule as well as a preliminary assessment of its estimated benefits and costs. The Board welcomes comment on any aspect of the proposal but is particularly interested in responses to the more than 40 questions on various topics it has posed in the rule. The rule includes instructions on submitting comments which are due May 28, 2015. Comments can be submitted or viewed through the federal rulemaking portal at www.regulations.gov. Comments also can be sent in by email ([email protected]), fax (202-272-0081) or mailed or delivered to the Board (Office of Technical and Information Services, Access Board, 1331 F Street NW, Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20004-1111).

During the comment period, the Board held public hearings on the rule in San Diego (March 5), Washington, DC (March 11) and Salt Lake City (April 29). After the close of the comment period, the Board will proceed to finalize the rule based on its review of public comments. The Board will publish the final rule in the Federal Register.

Following publication of the rule, the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council and federal agencies must incorporate the revised 508 Standards into their respective acquisition regulations and procurement policies and directives within six months. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is responsible for enforcing the Communications Act and has issued regulations that contain requirements based on the Board’s original Section 255 Guidelines. The updated 255 Guidelines will similarly be available for the FCC’s use in its enforcement of the Communications Act.

Visit the Board’s website at www.access-board.gov/ictrefresh for further information on this rulemaking.

About the Guest Blogger

David Baquis is an Accessibility Specialist with the U.S. Access Board. He delivers presentations, writes technical assistance materials, and responds to public inquiries on Sections 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and 255 of the Telecommunications Act. He is currently involved with updating the Board’s rule on information and communication technology accessibility. His background blends experience in healthcare, consumer education, disability issues, technology and public policy.

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