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Section 508 web accessibility rule to change  02 March 2012

The U.S. Access Board is currently working through a refresh of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. All new technology purchased by government agencies and departments must be accessible to people with disabilities under Section 508.

One addition in the draft (.pdf) - out for public comment until March 7 - could grab the attention of federal web managers.

The latest version of the proposed rule emphasizes back-end website authoring technology. In the past public-facing website accessibility has been a major focus of 508 standards, but in the latest version the content management side is also considered.

"Emphasizing better tools and backend technologies obviously make it easier to make compliant content. And, it also drives the market to make these technologies available to everyone," said Ken Nakata, director of the accessibility consulting practice at HiSoftware, said in an interview.

The latest version also clarifies what specific technology must be Sec. 508 compliant. Covered electronic content includes:

- content that is public facing;
- content that is broadly disseminated within the agency;
- letters adjudicating any cause within the jurisdiction of the agency;
- internal and external program and policy announcements;
- notices of benefits, forms, questionnaires and surveys;
- emergency notifications;
- formal acknowledgements; and
- educational and training materials.

Archival copies stored or retained solely for archival purposes to preserve an exact image of a hard copy, and draft versions of documents, were exempted from the proposed refresh - an exception Lauren McLarney, government programs specialist with the National Federation of the Blind took issue with during a January 11 hearing on the draft.

"What if an agency has a blind employee that needs access to a draft or is working on the draft before it's released to the public. Even though most drafts are internal, they still need to be accessible to disabled employees," said McLarney.

Source: Fierce Content Management.



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