Board members and staff (above) and the audience (below) at the ICT hearing.
On May 12 the Board held a public hearing on its refresh of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Standards and Guidelines. Through this event, which attracted a sizable audience, the Board sought feedback from the public on its draft update of standards for Federal technologies covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and guidelines for telecommunications products subject to Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act. Two dozen people provided testimony at the hearing, including consumers, accessibility consultants, product designers, and representatives from advocacy organizations, industry, and government. Several speakers had served on the former Telecommunications and Electronic and Information Technology Advisory Committee (TEITAC), an expert panel organized by the Board that provided recommendations upon which the draft rule is based.
Many speakers endorsed the overall approach of the draft rule and complimented the work of the TEITAC. A number of comments focused on the rule’s structure, specifically its complementary set of functional criteria and technical specifications. Support was expressed for this approach in providing a framework for flexibility that encompasses innovation and new or emerging technologies and requirements that are primarily descriptive instead of prescriptive. Some advised that the relationship between functional and technical criteria should be further clarified or revised. Comments varied on whether both sets of requirements were complementary or redundant to each other and whether meeting all applicable technical provisions would satisfy the functional criteria.
Strong support was expressed for the efforts made to harmonize the updated rule with domestic and international standards and guidelines, including those most recently issued by the World Wide Web Consortium (the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0). Speakers emphasized that harmonization with international standards was critical in the global ICT marketplace. Some commenters pointed to areas where harmonization could be further improved or advanced. Other countries and international standard-setting organizations, it was noted, have a strong interest in this rulemaking.
The draft rule includes provisions that would supplement the Board’s ADA Accessibility Guidelines, which cover access to facilities, to address certain types of interactive transaction machines such as point-of-sales machines and self-service kiosks. Several speakers, including representatives from vending machine and lodging industry associations, commented on these provisions. Some comments cautioned against applying the requirements to certain types of machines while others generally endorsed coverage since ICT is now an integral part of many self-service machines.
Another theme among the comments concerned the Board’s rulemaking process and the urgent need to expedite updates of the standards and guidelines in order to keep pace with the dynamic and ever-changing nature of the technologies they cover. This need is further underscored by the fact that change and innovation in the industry is becoming more rapid and varied. In addition, others called attention to the need to improve and facilitate implementation and enforcement of the standards and guidelines, although this topic extends beyond the Board’s purview. Speakers outlined the challenges product makers, vendors, and procurement officials face in determining product compliance and noted that supplementary evaluation tools and metrics, guidance, and training are essential.
Other topics raised by speakers included the role of assistive technologies, access to product documentation and technical support, improving accessibility for people with cognitive disabilities, and issues encountered by those with hearing or vision loss or combinations of both, such as the lack of audio output for screen crawls and other forms of communication for people without vision and audio quality and frequency for people who are hard of hearing. Some commenters addressed specific provisions or questions posed by the Board in the draft rule, including those concerning authoring tools, “best meets,” additional technical specifications, closed products, compatibility with assistive technologies, and product interoperability.
A transcript from the hearing will be included in the rulemaking docket. The Board held a similar hearing in March at the 25th Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference organized by the California State University at Northridge in San Diego.
The draft rule is available for public comment until June 21. Comments can be submitted or viewed online at www.regulations.gov. The Board will use the input received on this draft to prepare a proposed rule that will provide another opportunity for comment. For further information, contact Tim Creagan at firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-272-0016 (v), or 202-272-0082 (TTY).