One Reason Why Section 508 Isn’t Working

An area of accessibility that I have been deeply involved in for the past 18 months is the TEITAC (Telecommunications and Electronic and Information Technology Advisory Committee). By the way, it’s pronounced “Tie Tack” not “Tea Tack”. TEITAC consists of 42 member organizations including government, industry, consumer and international (EU, Canada, Japan, and Australia) representatives. In short, the charter of this committee is to revise the US Federal Section 508   and Section 255 laws. Section 508 involves information technology and Section 255 involves telecommunications. With technology convergence increasingly becoming the norm, is it any wonder why this committee was asked to revise both standards…at the same time???

Interestingly while we were conducting TEITAC meetings at NSF headquarters in Washington, DC last week, one of our members caught wind of an interesting article that appeared in Federal Computer Week (FCW) magazine. The article cited a recent memo distributed by the Office of Management and Budget to federal agencey Chief Acquistion Officers and Chief Information Officers reminding them of their responsibility to uphold the procurement standards mandated by Section 508. According to the memo, “…a recent assessment by GSA showed that only 3% of the solicitations that included E&IT, properly included the Section 508 standards.”Â

The article underscores one of the key weaknesses in Section 508 today: the lack of self-regulation and commitment to Section 508 by federal agencies. Since Section 508 was released in June 2001, the primary enforcement focus has been on industry’s role and responsibility. The pervasive thinking was that compliance could be better achieved by ensuring that industry designed, developed, and delivered accessible electronic and information technology for agency procurement. And there seems to be merit to this way of thinking. But the OMB memo cuts to the heart of the matter. If federal contracting and procurement officers do not include the 508 requirements as part of their procurement request documentation, industry has no motivation to invest money and resources required to enhance their products for accessibility.

At TPG, we’ve experienced this issue first hand. Time after time we hear clients and potential clients tell us that the majority of agencies do not document Section 508 compliance requirements in their procurement. As a result, industry has no motivation to comply.

Make no mistake about it, federal government contracts are big business. Several of our clients are involved in multi-billion dollar federal IT initiatives. If agencies are not enforcing 508, federal employees and citizens suffer the consequences. To quote the OMB memo:

“When properly implemented, Section 508 improves the accessibility of government information and data and ensures government E&IT is accessible to Federal employees and citizens with disabilities. Building an accessible infrastructure creates an environment for hiring persons with disabilities.”

Perhaps no one stated it better than Abraham Lincoln during his Gettysburg address when he said, “government of the people, by the people, for the people…”. This cuts to the heart of the matter. Section 508 isn’t about technology, it’s about people.

Categories: Development