January 18, 2017

Section 508 Refresh – What you need to know

US capitol building

The US Access Board has finally released the final rules for the Section 508 NPRM or as it is known now as the Section 508 Refresh. This is a follow up on my blog that I penned in March of 2015.

Are you doing business with the US Federal Government, a government agency, or perhaps you have a contract or are planning to work directly with the government or an organization regulated by a government body? If you are not providing accessible communications, it’s vital that you read about the Section 508 Refresh Requirements below and prepare for upcoming Accessibility rules for websites and electronic documents.

The Essentials

It has taken 11 years for the Section 508 Refresh to be published in its final form. On January 9th, 2017, the US Access Board completed its final rule and its updates to the Information and Communication Technology rules for the federal sector. This rule updates and refreshes both Section 508 and Section 255 of the Communication Act. The Rule goes in affect in 60 days from January 9th, 2017. However, you have one year to implement these changes. This refresh takes into consideration and adds rules that address technology not even considered in the original 1973 rulings. In expanding the definition of documents to digital content, it includes documents that are delivered electronically as well as websites, mandating that this content must be accessible. The US Government is the largest procurement organization globally. Its contracts, agencies and funding have a wide reach. Thus the Section 508 refresh encompasses a sizeable range of communications, impacting many organizations and technologies.

What should I do about electronic documents?

If you provide services to the US Government, or are an agency, funded or regulated by the government, it is critical that you assess your websites and electronic documents. This new rule requires that all information communicated to a user, whether it’s federal employee or an individual with a disability seeking information or services from a federal agency, must now be accessible, providing access comparable to a non-disabled person.

Here is what is covered:

a) Electronic Documents – publication, invoices, contracts, training etc.
b) Websites
c) Multimedia – content on DVDs, thumb drives, videotapes
d) Telecommunication products (Section 255) – handsets, information kiosks and transaction devices
e) Office equipment – copiers, printers, fax devices and services

All electronic formats, from websites to digital documents, need to be WCAG 2.0 Level AA at a minimum to meet the rules to do business with the US Government. In other words, documents such as invoices and other communications must be made accessible for the blind, partially sighted or those with a cognitive disability.

As part of the harmonization of section 508 to section 255 of the Telecommunications Act, the Refresh also aligns with the European Union’s requirements under EN 501-349, a similar rule for doing business with the EU.

Crawford Technologies has been a leader in providing alternate formats – braille, large print, eText, Audio and Accessible PDF through its service bureau as well as its licensed software for many years. We have a wide-ranging selection of transaction document software solutions, services, consulting and training that can help you meet the Section 508 Refresh requirements from basic accommodation to high volume, high speed transaction document solutions. Join us on February 23rd for an educational webinar to learn more.