December 21, 2000
December 21, 2000
Contact: Jim Bradshaw
NEW RULES PROMOTE EQUAL ACCESS TO INFORMATION
TECHNOLOGY FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES
Today's publication of final rules for Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 marks an historic breakthrough in the effort to promote equal access to information for people with disabilities, according to a federal panel. Such items as text labels for graphics on government Web pages, desktop software that is compatible with assistive technology and hardware that meets certain height and reach requirements will be mandatory beginning in mid-2001.
In a memo to the government's chief information officers, the federal Chief Information Officers Council declared that with the new standards published in today's Federal Register, "history is being made."
"These standards, which have been in the works since 1998 when the Rehabilitation Act was reauthorized, establish 'curb cuts' for the information age," said the memo from Craig Luigart, Education Department chief information officer, and Jim Flyzik, Treasury Department chief information officer, speaking on behalf of the CIO council.
The regulations, available at www.access-board.gov and www.section508.gov, provide among other things that:
- Federal employees with disabilities are able to use information technology to do their jobs; and
- Members of the public with disabilities who are seeking information from federal sources will be able to use information technology to access the material on equal footing with people who do not have disabilities.
"The CIO Council believes that fully implementing and supporting Section 508 will not only have a positive effect within our own agencies, but upon society at large," Luigart said.
He predicted the regulations would help all employees, "whether they are a mobile worker using speech recognition, or an individual browsing the web with a PDA (personal digital assistant) requiring text labels for images."
Luigart also pointed out that the benefits are broad -- an aging population stands to benefit, too. He cited statistics that show that by age 75, "fully three-quarters of the population will have some type of disability."
Judith E. Heumann, assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services, endorsed the new rules, saying, "It is the responsibility of the federal government to take a lead role to insure access in the area of technology for individuals with disabilities who have a right to access public information."
Luigart and Flyzik said the standards were developed by the Access Board, an independent federal agency devoted to accessibility for people with disabilities. The board consulted with the information technology industry, as well as disability advocates, worldwide standards groups, members of academia and federal officials.
"Designing for accessibility is neither hard nor expensive when done in the development phase," Luigart said, noting that the enforcement provision for procurement of information technology does not become effective until six months from today.
Luigart stressed that accessibility to information technology has long been a nonpartisan issue with strong support in all branches of government. "The issuance of the final Section 508 rule caps off a decade of both parties working together to improve rights and opportunities for people with disabilities," beginning with passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.