2002 Conference Proceedings

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SECTION 508 AND THE FUTURE OF ACCESSIBILITY

Bill LaPlant, Manager, IT Accommodation Research
blaplant@census.gov 
Technology Research Staff, SRD
Room 3000, FB 4
U.S. Census Bureau
Washington, DC 20233-9100
301-457-4887

Sharon Laskowski, Manager, Visualization and Usability Group
sharon.laskowski@nist.gov 
Information Technology Laboratory
100 Bureau Drive, MS 8940
National Institute of Standards and Technology
Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8940

Ed Reniker, Accessibility Forum Program Manager
ed.reniker@gsa.gov 
GSA OITP CITA
1800 F St NW
Washington, DC 20405

Gregg Vanderheiden, Director, Trace Research & Development Center
gv@trace.wisc.edu
Trace Research & Development Center
5901 Research Park Boulevard
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Madison, WI 53719-1252

Introduction

This panel will:
* Provide a general overview of initiatives designed to assist in the implementation of Section 508,
* Discuss the approach and potential of the Accessibility Forum to increase the availability of accessible electronic and information technology (E & IT) products which meet the requirements of Section 508, and
* Explore the impact of the assistive technology (AT) / E & IT interoperability standards being developed by NCITS/V2, the IT Access Interfaces Technical Committee of the National Committee for Information Technology Standards, on the flexibility and ease of use both future E & IT and AT products.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended by passage of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (codified as: 29 U.S.C. § 794d), requires that agencies ensure that "individuals with disabilities who are Federal employees [and members of the general public] have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access to and use of the information and data by Federal employees [and members of the general public] who are not individuals with disabilities." In order to support agency compliance with this mandate, Section 508 required that the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (the Access Board) develop accessibility standards for electronic and information technology. The final standards were issued as Federal regulations (36 C.F.R. Part 1194), effective February 2001. These standards provide no formal guidance to industry and procurement officials concerning how to determine compliance. However, if such standards are to be successfully implemented, especially in a regulatory regime such as the Section 508 E & IT Accessibility Standards, they must be unambiguous and testable.

There are two ongoing initiatives that are contributing to helping industry meet the 508 requirements now and to paving the way for increasing IT accessibility in the future. GSA is supporting industry in developing responses to the current requirements through ongoing projects of the Accessibility Forum. The NCITS/V2 standards development effort is seeking to improve the interoperability of alternative user interfaces with E & IT products. The goal of this panel is to inform the audience about these effort and engage in a discussion of the challenges surrounding these activities.

The Accessibility Forum

The Accessibility Forum is a GSA initiative aimed at providing technical assistance in this area and focused particularly on long-term solutions. GSA launched the Forum at Gallaudet University's Kellogg Center, May 9-11, 2001. The meeting brought together a very diverse set of stakeholders with a great interest in seeing Section 508 effectively implemented. Participants come from over 80 organizations that include main line electronic and information technology industry, assistive technology industry, advocacy associations for people with disabilities, academic, research, and standards groups, and government procurement and information technology representatives.

The members of the Accessibility Forum have agreed to work on two initial projects:
* AT / E & IT Interoperability -- seeks to identify, prioritize, and facilitate needed E & IT and AT interoperability standards (includes analysis of problems in the AT interface that are introduced by user practices).
* Objective Measures -- seeks to identify Section 508 provisions where objective measures may be effective and appropriate, then identify or develop such measures.

Other projects will be pursued as time and resources permit.

The IT Access Interfaces Technical Committee

The first project of NCITS/V2 will be to develop standards for an Alternative Interface Access Protocol (AIAP). This protocol would complement and build on industry activity in home networking, wireless networking, and metadata registries for discovery and interoperation of devices. The aim is to make it easier to fulfill the alternate interface connection needs of people with disabilities that are called for in recent government regulations, such as Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. The Alternative Interface Access Protocol and related standards will enable IT products to be more accommodating of the needs and preferences of the consumer by allowing for alternative user interfaces. While addressing the special needs of people with disabilities, the option to change interfaces will have a broader market applications and usability implications.

There are 4 ways that AIAP is currently envisioned to provide a means for users to change the user interface:
* By using an alternate user interface component instead of the native user interface component.
* By allowing a person to use a complete alternate user interface (which includes its own alternate input, control and display mechanisms) instead of the native input, control and display mechanisms on the product (a "Remote Console").
* By allowing the user to cause their characteristics or user interface preferences to be communicated to the target product (either directly or by providing a code which the device uses to look up the user preference or characteristics) where the target product changes its own user interface behavior based on the user preferences or needs.
* By allowing the user to cause new user interface software to be determined and downloaded onto the target device directly or indirectly.

How the Panel Will Work

Each of the panel members will describe the activities in which they have been involved. These will include the status of each activity and a roadmap of the work to be accomplished. After each presentation the audience is invited to participate in a discussion of the open issues associated with each activity.

References

* You can read the relevant parts of the law, i.e., Section 508 (29 U.S.C. § 794d), at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/508/508law.html.
* You can see the E & IT Accessibility Standards (36 C.F.R. Part 1194) at http://www.access-board.gov/sec508/508standards.htm.]
* To follow the activities of the Accessibility Forum, see: http://www.accessibilityforum.org/. [Ed Reniker is the GSA program manager for the Accessibility Forum. Questions about the effort can be directed to him at ed.reniker@gsa.gov.]
* To follow the activities of NCITS/V2, see: http://www.ncits.org/tc_home/v2.htm. [Bill LaPlant is the current chair of NCITS/V2. Questions about the effort can be directed to him and the other officers of V2 at info-v2@nist.gov.]


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