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media:Fw: Section 508 Revisions Considered

From: David Poehlman <poehlman1@comcast.net>
Date: Mon, 01 Jul 2002 09:11:09 -0400
To: wai-ig list <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-id: <006f01c22100$c464eb60$19e03244@DAVIDPOEHLMAN>


----- Original Message -----
From: "Christopher McMillan" <chrismcmillan@EARTHLINK.NET>
To: <guispeak@LISTSERV.NAS.NET>
Sent: Monday, July 01, 2002 6:52 AM
Subject: Section 508 Revisions Considered


Section 508 revisions considered
BY William Matthews
July 1, 2002

A year after Section 508 took effect, two councils that oversee
government procurement regulations are asking whether the law needs to
be changed.

In particular, the councils want to know whether the law would benefit
from a clause that spells out the legal obligations - and limits to
legal obligations - of vendors who sell electronic and information
technology to government agencies.

The Civilian Agency Acquisition Council and the Defense Acquisition
Regulations Council are seeking public comments during the next two
months on what changes may be necessary "to promote more consistent and
effective implementation of Section 508."

The problem is that Section 508 is "being interpreted differently by
different people depending on particular circumstances," said Larry
Allen, vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement.

The law requires federal agencies to buy electronic and information
technology that is "accessible," which means technology that enables
people with disabilities to use data and information in a way that is
comparable to use by those without disabilities.

Essentially, agencies must buy technology that can be used by people
with such disabilities as vision and hearing impairments, dexterity
problems and mobility limitations.

Section 508 includes detailed technical standards that hardware and
software must meet to be considered accessible, but it also permits
agencies to buy products that meet accessibility requirements in ways
not detailed in the technical standards.

"There are different standards for different technologies and even
different standards for the same technologies when they are used in
different ways," Allen said. And in some cases, multiple standards may
apply, as when a copying machine can also send faxes and serve as a
printer, he said.

The variety of circumstances, rules and interpretations is frustrating
for many who sell products to federal agencies, Allen said. But vendors
do not agree on the solution.

"Some vendors think there should be a series of relatively hard and fast
rules that direct contractors on what their responsibilities are in a
clear, concise and reasonably unambiguous way," he said.

But others argue that hard and fast rules do not apply because each
situation is different and technology keeps changing, Allen said.

A June 26 notice calls for vendors and others to comment on whether
Section 508 needs fine-tuning. The notice was written by Al Matera,
director of the Acquisition Policy Division of the General Services
Administration.

Matera notes that while the legal responsibility for complying with
Section 508 falls only on federal agencies, companies interested in
selling IT products to the government must ensure their products are
accessible.

For agencies, failure to comply with Section 508 means risking lawsuits.
That liability has prompted some agencies to draft contract clauses that
industry officials say are an attempt to shift compliance liability onto
produce vendors.

Matera wrote that a single, wide-reaching electronic and information
technology clause added to the Federal Acquisition Regulation might
prevent "the proliferation of agency-specific clauses" that have irked
industry officials. But he said that some agency and industry officials
contend that the trouble over technology standards is better addressed
"through the statement of work or other specifications instead of a
clause."

Comments should be sent by e-mail to farnotice.2001-033@gsa.gov, or by
mail to the General Services Administration, FAR Secretariat (MVP),
Attn: Laurie Duarte, 1800 F Street, NW, Room 4035, Washington, DC 20405.
Correspondents should cite FAR Case 2001-033, Section 508 Contract
Clause.
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Received on Monday, 1 July 2002 09:11:41 GMT

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