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Trade Group Reacts To Govt.'s Site Accessibility Rules

From: Scott Luebking <phoenixl@netcom.com>
Date: Wed, 31 May 2000 08:13:34 -0700 (PDT)
Message-Id: <200005311513.IAA03355@netcom.com>
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
By Brian Krebs, Newsbytes
WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A.,
30 May 2000, 4:44 PM CST

A trade group representing a good portion of the high-tech industry
wants the federal government's proposed Web site accessibility standards
for persons with disabilities to be "technology neutral" solutions, and
has asked that the timeframe for implementing those standards be
delayed.

At issue is a little-known amendment to the Workforce Investment Act of
1998 - referred to as Sec. 508 - that requires all federal agencies to
procure software and information technology that is accessible to the
disabled, specifically the blind.

When Congress modified the Workforce Investment Act to include the
disability requirements, it had intended to draft implementation
guidelines for IT manufacturers six months thereafter. But the
standards-setting body charged with drafting the regulations - the
Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, or the
Access Board for short - did not release its proposed guidelines until
mid March, 2000.

According to the wording of the proposed regulations, any technology
vendors that fail to build into their systems hardware and software
accessible to the disabled will not be permitted to sell their products
or services to the federal government.

All of which means that Web site designers and vendors of printers, fax
machines, copiers and information kiosks could be prevented from selling
their wares to 81 federal agencies and more than 250 agency components,
if they do not conform to the recommendations by August 7. At that time,
end users would be permitted to file formal complaints or lawsuits
against technology providers.

Beyond the repeal of the quasi-arbitrary deadline, the computer industry
is lobbying for watered-down design requirements, arguing that
substituting "technical and functional performance criteria," for more
specific design requirements might be a more flexible solution in light
of the relatively hurried pace of technological change.

"While we take into account existing products and technologies that
benefit disabled users, we must avoid getting mired in detail that
design requirements present as newer, faster, more reliable advancements
are being developed every year by the IT industry," said Harris Miller,
president of the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA).

Because today is the deadline for public comment on the Access Board's
recommendations - and the Board's statutes call for implementation of
the standards within six months of their formal issuance - the ITAA is
also asking the board to delay the effective date until at least six
months after they are formally announced.

Once the public comment period closes, the Access Board must review the
comments and decide which ones to incorporate. If it makes any changes,
the board must redraft and approve the altered standards. The
recommendations must then be given to the Office of Management and
Budget (OMB), which has 90 days to accept or reject the standards.

Given such requirements, neither the Access Board nor the high-tech
industry is likely to meet the Aug. 7 deadline. The only way to delay
implementation date, Access Board members say, would be to have Congress
pass a law to that effect.

Two weeks ago, the Senate passed legislation to do just that in an
amendment to a 2001 military construction appropriations bill. The
amendment, offered by Sen. James M. Jeffords, R-Vt., would postpone the
effective date of the standards until six months after formalization.
The measure will now need to be worked out in a House-Senate conference
committee, as the House already passed its own appropriations bill - but
without the Section 508 allowances.

House Appropriations Subcommittee staffers were not immediately
available for comment.

The ITAA also has asked for clarification on one particularly murky
statute that requires federal agencies to procure, maintain and use
disability-accessible technologies, so long as it does not cause them
"undue burden" to do so. The ITAA would like to know exactly when and in
what type of situation an exception would apply.

The Access Board's Web site is http://www.access-board.gov .

ITAA can be found on the Web at http://www.itaa.org .

Reported by Newsbytes.com, http://www.newsbytes.com
Received on Wednesday, 31 May 2000 11:13:50 GMT

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