October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), which celebrates the contributions of America’s workers with disabilities and showcases supportive, inclusive employment policies and practices. The U.S. Department of Labor themed this year’s NDEAM observance as “Advancing Access and Equity: Then, Now and Next” to celebrate the passage of the Rehabilitation Act fifty years ago and its importance in prohibiting discrimination based on disability in employment by federal agencies, federal contractors and recipients of federal funds, and in the delivery of federally funded programs and activities.
As summarized in the September 26 news release, Section 502 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 created the U.S. Access Board (originally named the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board) to ensure access to federal buildings and facilities under the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) of 1968. For the last fifty years, the Board has advanced accessibility through the development of guidelines and standards, technical assistance, trainings, and presentations at national conferences, forums, and summits. In October and November of this year, Board staff continue to promote accessibility and educate the public, organizations, and federal agencies on accessible design through presentations and customized trainings.
Earlier this month, Board staff presented to members and stakeholders of non-profit organizations. On October 3, Board Executive Director Sachin Pavithran provided the keynote address at the Art-Reach Conference, a disability-centered, global forum focused on disability advocacy and inclusion in culture and the arts. Pavithran discussed his background and experience with accessibility and inclusion, as well as current efforts and activities of the Board in advancing accessibility. A week later, Board Transportation Systems Engineer Juliet Shoultz presented to Forth, a non-profit organization dedicated to equitable access to electric transportation, on designing accessible electric vehicle (EV) charging systems. Shoultz discussed the Board’s technical assistance document on accessible EV charging stations, which covers existing requirements and new recommendations for making charging stations accessible.
From October 10 – 12, Board staff presented at the M-Enabling Summit, an annual conference on accessible technologies and environments for people with disabilities and attended by national and international technology companies, disability organizations, and federal agencies. Alison Levy, Director of the Board’s Office of Technical and Information Services, presented on the panel “Section 508 Report to Congress and the President: Accessibility of Federal Electronic and Information Technology” and moderated the panel “Serving Persons with Disabilities: Digital Accessibility Improvements in U.S. Federal Programs Directly Serving the Disability Community.” Pavithran also presented on the Board’s upcoming notice of proposed rulemakings on accessibility guidelines for self-service transaction machines and kiosks and EV charging stations. Additionally, Pavithran presented with Judy Brewer, Assistant Director for Accessibility in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, on Section 508 programs, including relevant mandates and guidance, and the Board’s available resources and technical assistance, such as its accessibility trainings and free bimonthly webinars on Section 508 best practices.
Board staff engage regularly with other federal agencies and provide tailored training on accessible design. Board Training Coordinator Josh Schorr, Accessibility Specialist Debra Martins, Accessibility Specialist Bobby Stinnette, and Senior Compliance Specialist Mario Damiani provided training to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on October 11, addressing the ABA Accessibility Standards and best practices to ensure that people with disabilities can receive assistance in, during, and after times of disaster. Schorr and Levy also presented at Department of Energy’s Accessibility Summit “Building Bridges to Inclusion,” where they reviewed physical accessibility for the federal workforce and attitudinal barriers and ways to create an inclusive environment.
Several Board staff will present at the 10th annual Interagency Accessibility Forum (IAAF), which celebrates accessibility as a foundation for inclusion, diversity, and equity within the federal government, from November 7 – 9. Levy will provide closing remarks on the first day, and Pavithran will open the third day with welcoming remarks. Board Senior Accessibility Specialist Tim Creagan and Board IT Specialist Bruce Bailey will also moderate and present, respectively, on panels on General Services Administration’s (GSA) Government-wide IT Accessibility Program’s achievements, future, and collaboration opportunities, and new web accessibility requirements. Levy will also moderate the November 8 the keynote fireside chat that includes Pavithran and other senior accessibility leaders.
With the Board issuing the final rule on public right-of-way accessibility guidelines in early August, Board staff have been busy with presentations, training, and technical assistance and will continue providing its expertise and assistance to members of the public. On October 19, Shoultz will present on the panel “Universal Access: Separated Bikeways and Bus Boarding Islands” as part of the Institute of Transportation Engineers’ ITE Complete Streets Council webinar program. On October 21, Technical Assistance Coordinator Scott Windley will discuss the public right-of-way accessibility guidelines at Korea Disabled People’s Development Institute’s 2023 Universal Design International Seminar. Next month, Shoultz will also provide training on the guidelines for Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals on November 1 and Howard County government and Mid-Atlantic ADA Center on November 6. Shoultz and Windley’s work continues the Board’s efforts in providing resources on the public right-of-way accessibility guidelines, including the Board’s four training videos, summary of notable changes in the final rule, and October 5 webinar, which includes the archived recording and presentation materials.
Board Senior ICT Accessibility Specialist Kathy Eng and Bailey will present at the 2023 ICT Accessibility Testing Symposium, an annual gathering focused on the advancement of accessibility testing of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and which features peer-reviewed paper presentations, in-depth panel discussions, workshops, and accessibility courses, including topics on program maturity assessment, multi-tool web accessibility testing, and artificial intelligence. The symposium will hold pre-conference online presentations and attendance October 25 – 27, and in-person and virtual attendance November 1 – 3. Eng will present with GSA collaborators Andrew Nielson and Kristin Smith-O’Connor on the Section 508 ICT Testing Baseline Portfolio, as well as with Bailey and GSA collaborators Smith-O’Conner and Michael Horton on the panel “Developing Government-wide Annual Assessment Criteria for Federal Agency Conformance with Section 508.” Eng also presents on the panel “W3C ACT Rules: Towards More Consistent Accessibility Conformance Testing.”
The Board is proud to observe NDEAM with presentations and trainings on accessibility. The Board will continue in the coming months and years to engage with members of the public, industry, organizations, and other federal agencies at conferences, forums, and summits and fulfil its mission of developing accessibility guidelines and promoting accessibility throughout society.