Topic: December 2017 - Criterion

Remember: Section 508 Refresh Takes Effect January 18, 2018!

In about two weeks, on January 18, 2018, accessibly compliance to Section 508 Refresh for U.S. companies and government will go into effect. Before giving an introduction to the changes, here is a quick recap of U.S. accessibility legislation, Section 508, and of international accessibility guidelines, WCAG, as it is important to know both of these before understanding the Section 508 Refresh.

In 1998, the U.S. Congress passed Section 508, an amendment to the Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Electronic and information technology must be accessible to people with disabilities according to Section 508, allowing them to perceive and utilize information quickly and easily. Federal agencies, along with private agencies that receive federal funding or have contracts with federal agencies must comply to Section 508.

In 1999, the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI-ARIA) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) published a series of guidelines that took center stage as the international standards for web accessibility. The first version of these guidelines was the WCAG 1.0 which focused heavily on techniques of accessibility. In 2008, the second version, WCAG 2.0, replaced the first with more detailed and updated guidelines, focusing more heavily on principles of accessibility. WCAG is based on four main accessibility principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.

Last year, on January 18, 2017, the U.S. Access Board published an update to Section 508, often called the 508 Refresh or the [ICT] Final Rule. The key changes that the 508 Refresh offers are:

New Regulatory Approach and Format: This changes the old approach of Section 508 to better incorporate issues that stem from multi-function devices (smartphones) which are now in widespread, universal use.

Broad Application of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0: International accessibility standards and the U.S. standards for accessibility have differed significantly. The Refresh allows for Section 508-covered ICT to virtually conform to WCAG 2.0 A and AA.

Harmonization with International Standards: In addition to conformance with WCAG, other standards—such as the European accessibility standard for ICT procurement—have been considered in the Final Rule so that there is no conflict between it and these other international standards.

Delineation of Covered Electronic “Content”: Content now incorporates “all forms of electronic information and data.” This will help create a consistent document accessibility standard across federal agencies, both public-facing documents, and non-public facing.

Expanded Interoperability Requirements: The Final Rule offers specific information about “operating systems, software development tool kits, and software applications” interacting with assistive technology ensuring functionality is at its height.

Extended Compliance Date and Incorporation of Safe Harbor Provision for Section 508-Covered Legacy ICT: Essentially, this states that federal agencies have one year to comply to the Final Rule from when it was first published in January of 2017. This also states that unaltered legacy content (Section 508 ICT) does not need to be modified unless the content is updated or changed. If the content is updated, it will be held to the Refresh standards. This provision applies “on an element-by-element basis.”

Due to the new federal guidelines for accessibility compliance, federal vendors should have their information technology retested and Section 508 compliance documentation updated for 2018. For more information about the Final Rule, visit the U.S. Access Board webpage on the on the refresh.

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