Accessibility isn’t just for websites anymore. The forthcoming new regulations will apply to all Federal information.
By Bevi Chagnon, PubCom
updated 7/15/2013 from the original blog in 3/2011.
A huge oversight was built into the original Section 508 accessibility standards released in 2000, thirteen years ago. The requirements addressed government information only on websites and failed to specify that all other government information needed to be accessible, too.
For over a decade, MS Word documents, Acrobat PDF files, Power-point presentations, Excel spreadsheets, email, and every other kind of document produced by federal government agencies have been in a gray area: if they reside on an internal file server rather than a public-facing website, are they exempt from Sec. 508?
The gray area is about to have some official light shed on it!
If you work for a federal government agency as either an employee, a contractor, or a freelancer, your knowledge of Section 508 and accessibility requirements will be crucial to your job.
Anyone who creates a document — writers, editors, desktop publishers, and web developers — will need to understand Section 508's requirements. Nearly every federal document will be covered by the expanded standards.
Do you work for state and local government agencies, nonprofits, or educational institutions? Many state and local government agencies as well as educational systems have already adopted the federal standards. The remaining state agencies will follow suit soon.
In late 2013, the U.S. federal government’s accessibility watchdog, the U.S. Access Board [www.access-board.gov], is expected to update its standards and guidelines for accessibility of all electronic information, expanding the current coverage from mainly website content to just about everything any government agency produces or purchases.
Forthcoming requirements will cover all electronic information, not just websites and videos. The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Standards and Guidelines rev. 2.0 will cover nearly all electronic content (E103.3), including
These are just some of the ICT (information and communication technology) requirements that will affect how you produce your everyday documents.
The forthcoming standards also cover many other non-document types of information, including cell phones and other telecommunication technologies, office equipment, computer hardware, self-serve kiosks, and software user interfaces.
The original standards and guidelines were published in December 2000.
A lot of technological changes have become commonplace in our lives in the decade since then, such as smart phones with touch screens rather than buttons or keyboards, tablets/slates such as the Apple iPads, and check-in kiosks at airports and other transportation centers. (It's difficult to remember life before these devices!)
The original standards also did not address documents such as MS Word files or Acrobat PDFs.
Excuses, workarounds, and loopholes became commonplace during the past decade to get around government Section 508 accessibility requirements.
Here is a comparison between the original and forthcoming standards and how some critical gray areas will be soon clarified. (Items in parentheses reference the appropriate section in ICT 2.0.)
|Original Dec. 2000 Standards
||Forthcoming ICT 2.0 Standards
|Not WCAG complaint.||Formally incorporates by reference the international accessibility standards, WCAG 2.0. (E102.7 WC3 and E207.2 WCAG)|
|Only information on websites.||All electronic information, regardless of whether it’s stored on a website, on an internal file server, emailed, burned to a CD or flash drive, or in any other location or file format.|
|Only information on federal government websites.||All electronic information, regardless of its location, including when it is stored on an outside non-federal government website.|
|Only information for federal government employees.||For federal government employees and the general public. (E203.1 General)|
|Only information created by federal government agencies.||Scope is expanded to all electronic information created by a federal government agency, purchased by a federal government agency, or produced by outside vendors/contractors on behalf of a federal government agency. (E201.1 Scope)|
|Only information technologies used by federal government agencies.||Includes information technologies used by contractors for the material they create under contract to the federal government (does not cover their use of technologies for their other non-government work).|
|Only HTML web pages.||All official agency communications, including public-facing documents and external HTML web pages, internal agency documents, and educational/training materials — regardless of its format. Covers office documents, PDFs, forms, surveys, training materials, and anything else available on a website, stored on a file server, distributed, or transmitted by a federal government agency or a third party on behalf of a federal agency. (E205 Electronic Content)|
|Only some federal government agencies required to meet the standards.||All federal government agencies, including the U.S. Postal Service. Exemptions are ICT that is part of a national security system. (201.1 Scope)|
|Item not addressed.||Other exemptions are ICT that is solely for archival purposes, and drafts and temporary works in progress. (E205.1 Advisory)|
|Item not addressed clearly.||HTML and XML markup languages are required to be used so that assistive technologies (AT) used by blind and disabled people can correctly access, read, and interpret the content.|
International accessibility standards for websites have been adopted by many governments worldwide since their release in 2008. These standards are known as WCAG 2.0 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) and are available at the W3C's website, www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20. (The acronym WCAG 2.0 is often pronounced “W-Kahg-two.”)
But WCAG 2.0 addresses only web content and not documents and other common types of files, so many governments around the world have created their own standards for documents. At this time, the W3C is beginning to document how to apply WCAG to documents and other content than websites.
The U.S. Access Board has incorporated WCAG 2.0 international standards into the forthcoming U.S. ICT 2.0 standards.
The Access Board has a 2011 draft of the new standards and guidelines on its website. [www.access-board.gov/sec508/refresh/draft-rule.htm]. A PDF of the draft is available. [www.access-board.gov/sec508/refresh/draft-rule.pdf]
ICT 2.0 will also dissolve the barrier between what’s a website and what’s telecommunication. This is critical, given how prevalent smart phones, PDAs, slates, tablets, and touch-screen kiosks have become that are both computers and telecommunication devices.
These different technologies are now overlapping and converging, and ICT 2.0 meets this blended technology world by
ICT 2.0’s language and intent are very clear: accessibility covers all information and computer technologies (ICT) produced by or on behalf of a federal government agency or procured by a federal government agency. (The standards do not apply to state and local government information, but most local jurisdictions are expected to adopt the federal standards as they can.)
Kudos to many of our government agencies that have already started to meet these new requirements for documents. Not only have they made their websites accessible, but they’ve also begun to produce accessible PDFs, Word files, and other routine government documents.
The current Obama administration has promoted accessibility in the Federal arena, including a direct presidential memo to agencies [www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/assets/procurement_memo/improving_accessibility_gov_info_07192010.pdf] and other measures [www.whitehouse.gov/issues/disabilities].
But because there hasn’t been a clear set of standards for documents before now, each agency created its own standards, techniques, and best practices. Some are more inclusive than others, creating inconsistent practices among our federal government agencies.
The new ICT standards will bring government-wide consistency to all Federal documents.
These are my thoughts about publishing and marketing careers in the coming decade.
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Only the most recent versions of MS Office and Adobe InDesign have the tools to create accessible files and PDFs. Here's what you'll need:
Keep your software up to date. Both Microsoft and Adobe are committed to the Federal government's mandate and the newest versions have better tools.
54 million: Number of people who have a disability.
19%: Percentage of the civilian noninstitutionalized population that is disabled.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau News, CB10-FF.13, 20th Anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act: July 26, 2010.