1 Executive Summary

This report contains a set of recommended standards and guidelines that the Access Board may use to update regulations that implement two laws regarding accessible information and communication technology (ICT):  Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 255 of the Communications Act of 19961.  These two laws help to form the legal backbone of accessibility in the American information and communications technology (ICT) environment.  In broad terms, Section 508 requires federal agencies to use accessibility as a selection criterion when procuring ICT, while the Access Board’s Section 255 requires certain telecommunications–related equipment and services to be designed, developed and fabricated to be accessible to and usable by people with disabilities, if readily achievable.2

Federal agencies, consumers, technology manufacturers and many others now have several years of experience working within those regulations, years in which technology evolved on many fronts, additional accessibility standards arose, and the technology of accessibility has been transformed.

In 2006 the Access Board directed its staff to revise and update the accessibility standards for E&IT covered under Section 508 and the accessibility guidelines for telecommunications equipment and customer premises equipment covered under Section 255 and to harmonize the updated standards with international accessibility standards.3 In order to effectively update these regulations, the Access Board consulted with various stakeholders:

  • Federal agencies
  • Telecommunications, electronics, and information technology industries
  • Public and nonprofit agencies and organizations
  • Public and nonprofit agencies and organizations representing individuals with disabilities
  • Accessibility consultants
  • Academics
  • International standards organizations.

Recognizing that accessibility is emerging as an important issue globally and that other countries are also developing and implementing accessibility standards, representatives from three other countries and the European Commission were also included in the consultation.  The Access Board established the Telecommunications and Electronic and Information Technology Advisory Committee (TEITAC) comprised of 41 organizations representing the various stakeholders.  (The members of the Committee are listed in Annex 9.1.) TEITAC is a formal federal advisory committee, managed under the regulations of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).

This report reflects the deliberations and recommendations of the TEITAC (The Committee). The principal content of this report is a set of recommended updates to the Section 508 Standard and the Section 255 Guidelines that commercial vendors and Federal departments and agencies use to develop, procure, maintain, or use E&IT and telecommunications products and services (Section 6). This report proposes standards needed so that people with disabilities might achieve access and use of information comparable to that of people without disabilities.

Manufacturers and providers of ICT products need to be able to make design choices and R&D investments with a clear understanding of the direct or indirect accessibility mandates under Sections 508 and 255. Federal officials in turn need to develop, procure, use, and maintain E&IT based on verifiable, and up-to-date accessibility standards.  The Department of Justice (DOJ) is required by Section 508 to measure and report to Congress the extent to which the Federal Government complies with the Section 508 standard.  The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) needs to be able to respond to informal and formal complaints concerning compliance of telecommunications products and services under Section 255 and to initiate its own actions. People with disabilities, whether Federal employees or the general public, should be confident in their ability to access telecommunications and federal information.  We hope that these stakeholders will be aided by the Committee recommendations.

The Committee recognizes that Federal agencies and consumers with disabilities need to benefit from advances in technology. The pace of technological advancement in ICT is rapid and the level of innovation is high. In this environment, a static standard consisting of design specification and fixed checklists would tend to stifle innovation and to delay the availability of technology advancements to people with disabilities.  At the same time, clear and specific standards may ease compliance.  To balance these needs, this report recommends provisions that explicitly address alternative technical approaches. All of these provisions, we believe, describe the required types of accessibility features.  Some refer to specific accessibility features that are known to be both feasible and effective. Federal agency compliance with the procurement process will encourage and give incentives to manufactures and providers to meet and hopefully exceed these requirements, and will help foster innovation and improvement in accessibility.