508 Refresh – What’s it Really All About?

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Image of a blue circle with the words "section 508 compliance" displayed in white font.

The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Refresh produced by the United States Access Board , also known as the 508 Refresh, is all the buzz in the compliance industry. What does it mean for a business, a government agency, a person who is blind or visually impaired? It could mean more effective accessibility solutions for all Americans. Braille Works is a leader in the document compliance industry and we are here to walk you through the transition.

Access Board Leads the 508 Refresh Initiative

The United States Access Board is updating its requirements for information and communication technology covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 255 of the Communication Act.

The Section 508 Standards apply to electronic and information technology procured by the federal government, including computer hardware and software, websites, multimedia such as video, phone systems, and copiers.  The Section 255 Guidelines address access to telecommunications products and services, and apply to manufacturers of telecommunication equipment.  The reason for the proposed rule change is to make certain that the federal laws from the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 are relevant to today’s technology and innovations moving into the future.  The Access Board has revised these standards and rules but there was still a lack of access to all persons with disabilities.

Image displaying the words "Section 508" with a blue arrow above and below meant to represent a refresh.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (amended), calls for the Access Board to publish and create the standards outlining the technical and functional performance criteria needed to comply with the Rehabilitation Act regarding accessibility requirements for electronic and information technology.  The statute mandates the Access Board shall periodically review the standards and make changes to reflect technological advances or changes in electronic and information technology.

A proposed rule was issued on February 18, 2015, the rule updates the 508 Standards and the 255 Guidelines.  The proposed rules are up for public comment until May 28th.  The Access Board held public hearings on the rule in San Diego on March 5 (Braille Works was present for the hearing) and in Washington, DC on March 11.  It will also conduct a public webinar to review the proposal on March 31.

508 Refresh Proposed Rule Changes

The buzz at the hearing was to change four major things within the Section 508 Standards.

  1. Adapting the 508 Standards to reflect the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0  which covers websites, electronic documents, and software.
  2. Specifying what is considered public facing.
  3. Specifying how to ensure that assistive technology interacts effectively with operating systems, software development tool-kits, and software applications.
  4. Requiring Real-Time Text (RTT) functionality.

These updates are being initiated for businesses so they can access services to be in full compliance with the laws.  Braille Works is an industry leader in 508 compliance along with accessible alternative documents such as Braille, Large Print and Audio.  Braille Works has been using WCAG 2.0 for years as a baseline to ensure document accessibility, putting our clients ahead of the curve.

Image showing the Braille Works logo and four icons representing Braille, large print, audio and 508-compliant accessible electronic documents.

The scope of the people who are covered by this rule is expected to expand to include those with cognitive disabilities.  There was a great amount of discussion over who would regulate the implementation of the new rules.  It is unclear if the Department of Justice, Department of Labor or another government agency will become the enforcer of the laws or if it will remain as is.  Currently, a person has to point out the failure to comply to the appropriate government agency.

Follow our blog to learn more about how you can make a public comment, follow the rule changes as they occur and we will present the final package when available.

Further Information on the 508 Refresh

For further information on this rule-making, visit the Access Board website or contact Timothy Creagan at (202) 272-0016 (voice), (202) 272-0074 (TTY), or 508@access-board.gov.

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This post was written by Braille Works

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