June 17, 2003 --
The National Council on Disability yesterday released an advisory critical of implementation of a law passed 5 years ago to give people with disabilities access to internet and electronic technologies.
In 1998, when Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act, it added Section 508, which requires federal agencies to purchase electronic and information technology that's accessible to persons with disabilities. Yet on the last day of 2002, notice was given that small purchases of technology, which had been exempt from most 508 requirements through 2002, would be exempt for another two years. This is indicative of the problem, says NCD: "where industry, for whatever reason, has failed to take the lead in implementing a 508 goal or requirement, the government has been without practical means for achieving compliance." The law does not contain provisions for ongoing monitoring
Congress itself is not bound by Section 508 -- nor are "Congressional instrumentalities" like the Library of Congress, the Government Printing Office or the General Accounting Office. The Congressional Office of Compliance describes its efforts to address the exclusion of the U.S. Congress from coverage under Section 508 -- unfortunately the report is itself in an inaccessible PDF file. To read it as an html file, which is accessible, go to http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/access_simple_form.html and paste in www.compliance.gov/reports-studies/ada_12-02/ada_report.pdf
Section 508 is up for reauthorization this year. NCD urges Congress and the Administration to "remain faithful to the starkly simple goals of equality, and to the enormous potential of technology, that combined to bring Section 508 into being."
AT508.com, which bills itself as a site "where the latest and greatest information on Assistive Technology and how it pertains to Section 508 is made available to everyone," is hosting free live video webcast of a "National Town Meeting to Rescue Section 508" this coming Friday, "to generate mainstream awareness of the inherent weaknesses in the federal government's implementation of the important Section 508 legislation." For more information, go to http://www.AT508.com/
Read the NCD's new advisory at http://www.ncd.gov/newsroom/news/r03-415.html
Read NCD's June, 2001 report, "The Accessible Future," online at http://www.ncd.gov/newsroom/publications/accessiblefuture.html
The General Services Administration's web portal on Section 508 is at http://www.section508.gov.