On August 11, 2023, federal government agencies have a formidable deadline: answering 105 questions on digital accessibility compliance. Section 752, a recent law aimed at increasing accountability and transparency for digital accessibility programs, requires agencies to begin reporting on the accessibility of their information and communications technology (ICT) for people of all abilities.
What is Section 752?
Section 752 is part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023, passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Joe Biden in December 2022. On April 7, the General Services Administration (GSA) released its requirements for reporting on ICT accessibility through a 105-item questionnaire with multiple-choice answers. August 11, 2023, was established as the official deadline for agencies to submit their responses.
What will change with Section 752?
It’s important to note that Section 752 does not introduce new ICT accessibility standards for federal government agencies. Instead, it establishes a process to hold agencies accountable for compliance with Section 508 requirements that were signed into law on August 7, 1998. These requirements state that federal agencies must create, buy, and use ICT that is accessible to people with disabilities.
Section 508 has not always been strictly enforced, but that seems to be changing. The Department of Justice released its first report on Section 508 compliance in February 2023 – its first in over a decade. The report disclosed that only 38 percent of agencies abided by the law. As a result, Section 752 became part of an effort to close the gap between legal accessibility requirements and the current reality of many agencies’ practices.
What’s the difference between Section 508 and Section 752?
Section 508 requires government agencies to buy, build, maintain, and use accessibility information and communication technology for the government. Section 508 is an unfunded mandate that opens the door for possible liabilities.
Section 752 requires these same agencies to report on their Section 508 compliance and the results. Section 752 has some funding attached to help gather data. Section 752 requirements are not optional for federal agencies. The responses to the questionnaire will be available to the public: agencies that fail to meet requirements are likely to face reputational damage and legal consequences. Over time, the U.S. Access Board claims it will monitor this public data closely, providing aid for struggling agencies and questioning those that state they’re furthest along.
Opportunities for Digital Accessibility Advancement with Section 752
Allen Hoffman, TPGi’s Senior Accessibility Program Management Consultant, says that Section 752 may help standardize the measure of success for digital accessibility. Before joining TPGi, Hoffman helped start the CIO Council Accessibility group, which, over time, encouraged identifying, sharing, and documenting best practices for maturing digital accessibility practices.
According to Hoffman, a portion of the survey focuses on how to mature accessibility programs while the rest is focused on reporting results.
One of the Section 752 reporting questions speaks to contract language. According to Hoffman, this is an area where agencies and their customers alike have significant potential for growth. Currently, agencies may “cover 508 compliance” by putting generic accessibility language in a paragraph within a contract, when it should be customized each time.
The General Services Administration (GSA) already provides an Accessibility Requirements Tool to help federal agencies create solicitations and contracting documentation that complies with Section 508. This tool ensures that IT products and services the federal government buys and builds are accessible to persons with disabilities. Hoffman says this could be another advantage of Section 752 overtime – bringing awareness to the gaps and resources already available.
How to Use Section 752 as a Model for Real Change
There are concerns about the new reporting model. In its first phase, the requirements are weighted toward compliance. But what about the usability?
According to a government agency source, the 105 questions seem geared toward advanced, mature agencies. For smaller agencies, or those new to implementing accessibility standards, there isn’t a specific model to answer correctly or guide on how to do the necessary work to meet the standards.
Hoffman says that with any kind of digital accessibility reporting, some agencies misrepresent answers a great deal. The hope is that with Section 752 answers going public, agencies will feel more compelled to do the work it takes to answer honestly. Although, Hoffman adds, it may take more than the first round of reporting to change attitudes.
Hoffman recommends agencies use the survey and results structure to set annual goals. For programs that don’t know the answer to questions, they should explore why and set action plans to understand and implement for the next round of reporting.
Once the reporting deadline has passed and answers are made public, the real opportunity to initiate and mature digital accessibility government programs begins. Advocacy groups should pay close attention to the data, taking agencies to task for answering inaccurately and helping them mature.
Need help conforming to Section 508 guidelines? Let TPGi’s digital accessibility experts help your agency answer – and back up – every question in the Section 752 Survey. Speak with an expert today!