A refresher on the refresh

Here’s an update on federal accessibility laws and policy changes

A young woman wearing headphones works on a computer

Effective March 21, 2017, “refreshed" federal standards aim to enhance website accessibility for people who are blind or visually impaired.

October 23, 2017

On January 18, 2017, the U.S. Access Board published a final rule that updates Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, as well as Section 255 of the Communications Act. The Access Board’s final rule revises and refreshes its standards for information and communication technology (ICT) in the federal sector. The updated 508 standards, which went into effect on March 21, 2017, apply to a federal agency’s full range of public-facing content, including websites, documents and media, blog posts and social media sites.

The final rule also specifically lists the types of non-public-facing content that must comply. This includes electronic content used by a federal agency for official business to communicate, including emergency notifications, notices of benefits, employment opportunities or surveys, educational materials and web-based intranets.

What does this all mean?

If you are a federal agency, or if you are a company that plans to do business with a federal agency, then your ICT products, including websites and web-based applications, must be accessible.

The Section 508 refresh means that regulations pertaining to accessibility and equal access for people with disabilities are “catching up” with our continually evolving digital world. The new Section 508 standards incorporate the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA, often referred to as the international standard for web accessibility.

This regulatory change also sets the stage for future amendments to existing accessibility legislation, most specifically the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice issued a Supplemental Advanced Notice of Proposed Rule Making (SANPRM) in April 2016 to solicit additional information regarding the application of technical requirements for website accessibility in Title II of the ADA.

Meanwhile, several court rulings (including the Winn-Dixie settlement), have already interpreted the ADA to require private and public entities to meet WCAG 2.0 level AA conformance.

What else do I need to know?

  • The new standards enhance accessibility for people with disabilities and harmonize the requirements with other standards in the U.S. and abroad.
  • Federal agencies and contractors must comply with the updated 508 standards beginning January 18, 2018.
  • Section 508 mandates that, within six months, both the Federal Acquisition Regulatory (FAR) Council and federal agencies must incorporate these revised standards into their respective acquisition processes.

How can I learn more?

Perkins Access can help make sense of accessibility regulations and guidelines. We know accessibility technical standards inside and out, and we have first-hand experience from the end user perspective. We can evaluate your website for WCAG 2.0 AA conformance and/or Section 508 compliance, or assist you in building a fully accessible website from the start.

Contact Perkins Access today at Access@Perkins.org to learn more about our services.

Christopher Loiselle is Sr. Digital Accessibility Consultant/Team Lead at Perkins Access.

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