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[media] Government Computer News - Agencies fear Sect. 508 costs

From: Kathleen Anderson <kathleen.anderson@po.state.ct.us>
Date: Tue, 18 Apr 2000 12:52:43 -0400
Message-ID: <006801bfa956$889c75e0$e924f79f@STATE.CT.US>
To: "'Web Accessibility Initiative'" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
at: http://www.gcn.com/vol19_no8/news/1733-1.html
April 17, 2000

Agencies fear Sect. 508 costs

By Christopher J. Dorobek
GCN Staff

A draft of a new regulation calls for federal agencies to begin making their
technology as accessible to disabled users as their buildings.

The rules could have a significant impact on agencies' budgets-costing the
federal government up to $691 million per year, according to some
estimates-and require agencies to buy accessible hardware and software and
to revise their Web sites.

"Federal agencies must ensure that this technology is accessible to
employees and the public to the extent it is not an 'undue burden,'" said
the Access Board, which drafted the rules.

The board is an independent federal agency that oversees standards on
systems access for people with disabilities.

Derived from Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998, the
rules would apply to agencies when they develop, buy, maintain or use
information technology. The rules would not require agencies to retrofit
existing technology. Section 508 is designed to help disabled federal
employees, as well as disabled citizens who use federal IT.

The Access Board will accept comments on the draft until May 31. After it
reviews the comments, the board will post a final version.There is some
question about when the rules would take effect. By law, Section 508's
enforcement provision, which establishes a complaint process, takes effect
Aug. 7.

But Doug Wakefield, director of the Access Board's Office of Technical and
Information Services, said the new rules would not take effect until six
months after the board posted the final notice in the Federal Register.
"That will give everybody a chance to get their act together in terms of
requests for proposals in the future," he said.

Cost concerns

The rules have received much more attention among the disabled than from the
IT or procurement communities, said Ira L. Hobbs, the Agriculture Department
's deputy chief information officer.

But the rules have sparked concern among systems managers and vendors. Many
said they are concerned about the potential costs of the mandates. Some
officials also said they are worried that they will be blamed for problems
technology cannot solve.

The Access Board estimates that implementing Section 508 could cost the
government anywhere from $85 million to $691 million.

The rules are so detailed that industry groups are still reviewing the
nearly 50-page document, said Olga Grkavac, senior vice president of systems
integration for the Information Technology Association of America of
Arlington, Va.

"We are very supportive of the goal of the law. We want to be in
 compliance," she said. "We still have more questions than answers."

Officials at most agencies said they are awaiting a report from the Justice
Department that will detail where agencies stand in complying with Section
508. That report is expected any day.

Proponents of the provision suggested that agencies and vendors need not be
overly concerned. The rules could even be positive for agencies as they
grapple with the shortage of IT workers, said Hobbs, who is co-chairman of
the CIO Council's IT Work Force Committee.

One of the committee's recommendations for dealing with the worker shortage
is to recruit from nontraditional labor pools, including the disabled [GCN,
July 5, 1999, Page 1]. As many as three out of four disabled people are
unemployed, Hobbs said. Section 508 could benefit agencies by broadening the
labor base from which to find IT workers, he said.

Plus, the rules specifically state that purchases should not be an undue
burden, said Gregg C. Vanderheiden, a professor of industrial engineering at
the University of Wisconsin and director of the Trace R&D Center, a
federally supported organization created to develop inexpensive and
marketable accessible technologies.

The draft rules cover areas such as software, Web information and
applications, telecommunications, and kiosks. The section on Web
applications, for example, includes a provision that would require agencies
to provide alternative keyboard navigation, which is necessary for
vision-impaired users.

The rules would not restrict the use of Web site graphics or animation.
"Instead, the standards aim to ensure that such information is also
available in a format that is accessible to people with vision impairments,"
the draft said.

Tags are it

The biggest problem with Web pages is that developers use graphics instead
of Hypertext Markup Language .alt tags to specify what graphics represent,
said Keith Thurston, assistant to the deputy associate administrator for IT
in the General Services Administration's Office of Governmentwide Policy.
Applying the tags is a fix that lets audio readers describe a page to a
blind user, he said.

There are resources available to help agencies meet the Section 508
requirements. And Hobbs said the CIO Council would meet with the Education
Department to develop a set of best practices. Education has included access
requirements in its IT contracts since 1997, said Joe Tozzi, director of
Education's Technology Center and program manager for the agency's Assistive
Technology Team. The center demonstrates assistive technologies.

The Office of Management and Budget has directed GSA to lead the
governmentwide rollout of Section 508, Thurston said. GSA is spearheading a
number of education and training sessions on the rules.

The draft rules are posted at www.access-board.gov/RULES/508nprm.htm.

Kathleen Anderson, Webmaster
State of Connecticut, Office of the State Comptroller
55 Elm Street, Room 101, Hartford, Connecticut  06106
voice: (860) 702-3355  fax: (860) 702-3634
email: kathleen.anderson@po.state.ct.us
URL: http://www.osc.state.ct.us
CMAC Access: http://www.cmac.state.ct.us/access
AWARE: http://aware.hwg.org/
Received on Tuesday, 18 April 2000 12:53:03 UTC

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