Earlier this month, the U.S Access Board announced a “refresh” of Section 508, the part of the Rehabilitation Act that covers information and communication technology for government entities and those receiving government funding such as educational institutions. The point of the refresh was to ensure that the law stays up to date with changes in information and communication technology (ICT).
Sachin Pavithran, Chair of the Board’s ICT ad hoc committee made the following comment about the refresh, “This update is essential to ensure that the Board’s Section 508 standards and the Communications Act guidelines keep pace with the ever-changing technologies covered and continue to meet the access needs of people with disabilities,”
What else does the refresh accomplish?
The refresh also syncs with existing global guidelines and voluntary standards, including Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). In particular the rule addresses level A and AA requirements in WCAG 2.0, applying these standards to websites, electronic documents and software.
Guidelines set forth by the rule cover all types of disabilities including hearing, visual, color perception, speech and manual dexterity.
Who had input on the changes?
In February 2015, The Board released a proposed rule, requesting feedback from the public. An advisory panel, made up of industry stakeholders, disability groups, international representatives and government agencies, was responsible for for providing recommendations for the rule.
What technology does it cover?
The updates will cover ICT including digital video, mobile devices, real-time communication and web applications. Technology is re-categorized by functionality rather than product type because many ICT products are now multi-functional. Revisions also clarify improvements to usability and operation requirements, specifically with assistive technologies.
How does it affect captioning?
Success criteria for captioning and audio and visual content are defined in the Section 508 Refresh. WCAG levels are assigned to different types of content. Level A means the ICT provides a minimal level of accessibility without making changes to the underlying design. Level AA may require design and programming changes, but the ICT will be more accessible to a wide range of disabilities. Table A-1 of the Final Regulatory Impact Analysis shows the success criteria for pre-recorded captions, live captions and prerecorded audio and video.
The final rule was published January 18th, 2017 in the Federal Register. It takes effect March 20th, 2017, however compliance is not required until January 18th, 2018.
The Board will conduct a webinar on the rule on February 2nd, 2017.