On Thursday, the federal government's new Section 508 standards took effect, requiring compliance from agencies, and any state or locality that accepts federal funding, to ensure their digital services are accessible to people with physical, sensory, or cognitive disabilities.
As part of the Federal Acquisition Regulation, the guidelines are aimed at helping seeing- and hearing-impaired users access information on government websites, apps and other digital media. The revised rules, which stem from a 2001 amendment of the Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973, include fewer compliance exemptions for hardware and software. This means a broader range of technologies and more states and localities are likely to be affected by the requirements.
With more than $500 billion in federal spending going to companies, states and local jurisdictions, Beth Franssen, an accessibility expert at the software company Nexient, said the changes may take some by surprise if they are not prepared.
“Companies in the private sector may not be fully aware that this could potentially impact them. While the standards are simple concepts to ensure equal access, organizations are empowered to interpret how best to implement within their own processes, tools and culture. This is one of the largest challenges facing an organization in learning how to prioritize and implement the standards most efficiently.”