Section 508 Report to the President and Congress:  Accessibility of Federal Electronic and Information Technology

Summary

1. General Processes for Section 508 Implementation

The first section of the Department’s survey focused on general processes for implementing Section 508 within the agencies and their components.  Specifically, this section sought information regarding policies, processes, and procedures that agencies used to ensure their components comply with the requirements of Section 508.  In addition, agencies were asked questions regarding their budgets for information technology (IT), development of software and web applications, and training.  Also, agencies were asked several questions regarding Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504).

Agencies reported mixed levels of success.  Slightly more than fifty percent of agency components had established a general policy to implement and comply with Section 508.  However, only about forty percent of agency components that developed software had included a process to ensure the accessibility of software, and only about thirty percent of agency components that developed videos or multimedia productions had included a process to ensure the accessibility of training or informational videos or multimedia productions.  Additionally, nearly seventy percent of agency components had appointed a Section 508 coordinator, but only thirty-five percent of agency components had established a Section 508 office or program.  Among the agency components that had established a Section 508 office or program, they assigned on average 2.5 full time equivalents (FTEs) and allocated a median budget of $35,000 to their Section 508 office or program.[5]

Agency components experienced difficulty in providing Section 508 training to their personnel – only forty percent of agency components provided Section 508 training, and these agency components provided only a small number of hours of training to their agency acquisition workforce (less than one hour) or EIT developers (a little more than one hour).  Agency components also experienced difficulty establishing a mechanism to ensure EIT used in a program or activity receiving federal financial assistance is accessible to persons with disabilities .

The Department recommends the following:

  • Establish Section 508 Policies and Procedures.  Agencies that have not already done so should establish policies and procedures to ensure that their development, procurement, maintenance, and use of EIT (web, software, office equipment, and other EIT) are accessible.  The policies and procedures should identify the person in charge and define roles and responsibilities, especially for the agency’s personnel involved in the procurement process and web and software developers.  The policies and procedures should include a process to regularly report on the status of Section 508 compliance and implementation to agency’s leadership.  The policies and procedures should also include the technical requirements of Section 508 EIT Accessibility Standards, including the accessibility requirements for all live or recorded training and multimedia production (e.g., closed captioning, open captioning, and audio description).
  • Appoint Coordinators and Establish Section 508 Offices or Programs.  Agencies that have not already done so should appoint a Section 508 coordinator and establish a Section 508 office or program.  The Section 508 coordinator and the Section 508 office or program should reside in the office that plans and oversees the implementation of the agency’s information technology (e.g., Office of the Chief Information Officer or Chief Technology Officer).  The Section 508 coordinator should have the authority to implement the agency’s Section 508 policy.  The coordinator should also have the authority to facilitate and develop partnerships with agency components that are responsible for information technology, procurement, and enforcement of equal employment opportunity (EEO) or civil rights laws.  The agency’s Section 508 office or program should support Section 508 compliance within the agency’s information technology governance activities to ensure that decisions regarding technology include the needs of employees and members of the public with disabilities.  Additionally, the agency’s Section 508 office or program should provide support to agency personnel who are responsible for ensuring the accessibility of EIT that is developed, procured, maintained, or used.  The Section 508 office or program should also provide support for accessibility testing and remediation of EIT.
  • Provide More Training to Agency Personnel.  Agencies should provide and/or facilitate the provision of more training to Section 508 coordinators, agency personnel involved in the procurement process, software developers, website developers, and video and multimedia developers.  Agencies should also provide training to equal employment opportunity, human resources, civil rights, and Section 508 offices and personnel.  To provide more effective training, agencies should utilize the Section 508 expertise of the Access Board and the General Services Administration, which have statutory authority for providing technical assistance under Section 508.  Agencies also should encourage the sharing of interagency training opportunities and take advantage of the existing Section 508 training opportunities, including the Section 508 Coordinators’ Conference and the Interagency Disability Educational Awareness Showcase.
  • Ensure Accessibility of EIT Used in Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance.  Section 504 prohibits recipients from discriminating against persons with disabilities in any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. Under this statute, recipients have an obligation to ensure that persons with disabilities are not excluded from, denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance, including instances when the program or activity is offered through the use of EIT (e.g., through websites). Agencies should inform recipients that they are required to ensure the accessibility of their websites and other EITs and that they may meet this statutory obligation by using the standards described under the Section 508 EIT Accessibility Standards.[6]

2. Procurement

The second section of the survey focused on procurement practices and procedures within the federal agencies.  Specifically, this section analyzed contract requirements, market research, documentation of decisions, exceptions and commercial non-availability, and pre or post award protests.

A majority of the agency components currently incorporate accessibility provisions into their EIT procurements.  However, less than fifty percent of agency components incorporated specific applicable Section 508 Accessibility Standards as requirements in each procurement solicitations.  A majority of the agency components only provided standardized compliance language or clauses in their solicitations.  Additionally, instead of relying on actual product testing to validate Section 508 compliance, agency components most often relied on reviewing the materials submitted by the contractor or vender to evaluate whether the deliverables met the Section 508 requirements.  Some agency components conducted no evaluation at all.

The Department recommends the following:

  • Develop Procurement Policies for Section 508 Compliance.  As mentioned previously, slightly more than fifty percent of agency components had established a general policy to implement and comply with Section 508.  Agencies that have not already done so should review all of their procurement practices and policies, formal and informal, and develop systematic ways to ensure that they are procuring EIT that meets the Section 508 EIT Accessibility Standards.
  • Use Specific Language of the Section 508 Requirements in All Solicitations.  Rather than rely on general Section 508 standardized language, whenever possible, agencies should incorporate specific applicable Section 508 requirements that are appropriate for the procurement of the EIT product.
  • Perform Actual Product Testing.  Instead of solely relying on reviewing the materials submitted by the contractor or vendor, agencies should evaluate Section 508 compliance by conducting actual product testing throughout the acquisition process, particularly for products that will be heavily used by agency employees or members of the public.  When product testing reveals noncompliance, an effective plan should be developed to correct or remediate the problem in a timely manner.
  • Establish Procedures to Document Section 508 Procurement Decisions.  Only about forty percent of agency components had established a formal policy to document any Section 508 exceptions claimed on procurements of EIT.  Agencies that have not already done so should establish formalized systems to document their Section 508 procurement decisions (e.g. , non-availability determination, undue burden exceptions, National Security exceptions).

3. Administrative Complaints and Civil Actions

The third section of the survey examined policies and procedures for handling Section 508 complaints and requested statistics on the number of complaints and judicial actions involving the federal agencies.  Agency components reported 140 administrative complaints and seven civil actions since June 21, 2001, the effective date of the Section 508 EIT Accessibility Standards.  However, most of the administrative complaints and civil actions were filed against componets in very large agencies.  Also, only slightly more than thirty percent of agency components had already established set of policies and procedures specifically to process Section 508 complaints.  Fifty-seven percent of the agency components were either using existing Section 504 complaint processes or some other process.

The Department recommends the following:

  • Establish Procedures Specifically to Process Section 508 Complaints.  Rather than rely solely on the Section 504 complaint process, agencies should consider augmenting the Section 504 complaint process, where appropriate, so as to include specific policies and procedures targeted to the processing of Section 508 complaints. [7]  The complaint policies and procedures should also include a method for tracking the complaints and ensure a timely response and resolution.
  • Incorporate Alternative Dispute Resolution Into Section 508 Complaint Process.  Almost seventy percent of agency components reported providing Section 508 complainants a choice of using an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) option to attempt resolution of their complaints.  Those agencies that have not done so should consider offering to Section 508 complainants a carefully designed ADR option within the context of the agencies’ Section 508 administrative complaint resolution process.
  • Disseminate Widely Information About the Section 508 Complaint Process.  Agencies should widely distribute information about their Section 508 administrative complaint process.  For example, agencies should publish the complaint process on the agencies’ Internet and Intranet websites, as well as publish information prominently in equal employment opportunity handbooks and other appropriate publications.

4. Website Compliance

The fourth section of the Department’s survey inquired about general policies and practices for developing accessible web pages within the federal agencies.  Agencies also were asked to evaluate the accessibility of their external Internet home pages, internal Intranet home pages, web-based forms, and web-based applications.  Seventy percent of agency components reported having accessibility policies in place for website development and that their web pages, web-based forms, and web-based applications were generally accessible.  Also, nearly fifty-eight percent of agency components reported performing routine automated and/or manual evaluation and remediation on their websites.  Specifically, twenty-eight percent of agency components performed both automated and manual evaluation, while twenty-four percent of agency components performed only manual evaluation, and six percent of agency components performed only automated evaluation.  Agency components reported some difficulty, however, with providing captioning and audio description for multimedia content and providing keyboard accessibility.

The Department recommends the following:

  • Establish Web Accessibility Policies and Procedures.  Agencies that have not already done so should establish web accessibility policies and procedures to ensure that web developers follow the requirements of the Section 508 EIT Accessibility Standards so as to ensure that their web pages (both public and private) are accessible to people with disabilities.
  • Ensure that Web Accessibility Policies and Procedures Include Special Topics.  Agencies should ensure that their web accessibility policies and procedures include guidance to ensure that frequently used elements on their websites are accessible.  Guidance should include, among other things, Adobe Acrobat files (.pdfs), video and audio multimedia content (closed captioning, open captioning, and audio description), JavaScript or other scripting languages, word processing files, data tables, skip navigation links, and online electronic forms.
  • Test Accessibility of Agency Web Pages.  Agencies should include in their web accessibility policies and procedures a process to routinely and consistently test their web pages for accessibility.  The most effective way to determine whether a web page is accessible to people with disabilities is to use both automated and manual testing.  Manual testing should be based on a consistent test process and should rely primarily on code inspection to ensure that the web page is consistent with the Section 508 EIT Accessibility Standards.  Also, agencies can improve accessibility and usabilty of a web page by including people with disabilities in the testing process using screen readers and other assistive technologies prior to posting.  Agencies should establish policies and procedures that require both methods of testing web pages.
  • Publish Web Accessibility Statements.  Agencies should develop and publish web accessibility statements on their websites to provide transparency and information regarding the website’s accessibility.  The web accessibility statements should address the agency’s web accessibility policy, availability of accessible features, and testing and remediation process.
  • Publish E-Mail Addresses.  Agencies should designate and advertise e-mail addresses on their websites to allow persons with disabilities to inform the agencies of accessibility problems encountered on their websites.  Agencies can also use e-mail addresses to accept requests from persons with disabilities for information and documentation in alternate formats.

5. Inter – and Intra-Agency Coordination

One significant challenge posed by Section 508 is the need for coordination between those with technological expertise and those with knowledge of disability access issues.  Agencies should improve inter- and intra-agency coordination and collaboration among information technology personnel, procurement officials, EEO or civil rights professionals, end users with disabilities, and the private sector.

In 2010, the U.S. Chief Information Officers Council (CIOC) formed an Accessibility Committee to serve as an interagency forum to improve the federal government’s implementation of Section 508.  Working in conjunction with the U.S. Access Board, the Department of Justice, and the General Services Administration, the Accessibility Committee hopes to provide a forum for federal agencies, disability advocacy groups, industry, and academic stakeholders to enable and support the federal government’s implementation of Section 508.  The Accessibility Committee has begun to develop and share best practices that address, among other things, Section 508 governance, procurement, testing, and training.

The formation of the CIOC Accessibility Committee is a positive step forward in promoting increased inter-agency coordination and awareness.  At the same time, agencies will need to improve intra-agency coordination and collaboration among agency components that are responsible for information technology, procurement, and enforcement of EEO or civil rights laws.  The participation of the agency’s EEO or civil rights office is especially important.  For most agencies, Section 508 implementation has been the province of components that are responsible for the agency’s information technology or procurement.  Today, some agencies view Section 508 as a set of technical requirements that they must comply with when developing, procuring, maintaining and using EIT.  Section 508 is a federal civil rights law but agencies’ EEO or civil rights offices have been mostly absent from the implementation process.

The Department recommends the following to increase coordination and cooperation:

  • Revive the Interagency Disability Coordinating Council.  The Department should revive the Interagency Disability Coordinating Council (IDCC), as set forth in 29 U.S.C. §794c, with the Attorney General as Chair, consistent with Executive Order 12250, 29 U.S.C. §2000d-1.
  • Issue Section 508 Model Complaint Resolution Policies and Procedures.  The Department, in consultation with the IDCC after it is reconvened, should review agencies’ complaint resolution policies and procedures for Section 508 and recommend improvements and best practices.
  • Issue Guidance Clarifying the Relationship Among Sections 501, 504, and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.  The IDCC should issue guidance clarifying the relationship among Sections 501, 504, and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

II. General Processes for Section 508 Implementation

This section of the survey focused on general processes for implementing Section 508 within the agencies and their components.  Specifically, this section sought information regarding policies, processes, and procedures that agencies used to ensure compliance with the full requirements of Section 508, including EIT that is procured, developed, maintained or used by federal agencies.  In addition, agencies were asked questions regarding their budget or spending on information technology (IT), development of software and web applications, and training.  Also, agencies were asked several questions regarding Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504).

The general processes section focused on ten specific areas:

  • Section 508 Policy
  • Section 508 Office or Program
  • Spending on IT and Section 508
  • Software and Other EIT
  • Section 508 Technical Requirements
  • Section 508 Functional Performance Requirements
  • Section 508 Information and Documentation Requirements
  • Section 508 Training
  • Section 508 Challenges
  • Other Rehabilitation Act Issues

The following provides a brief summary of findings for each of the ten subsections of Section II – General Processes for Section 508 Implementation.

  • Section 508 Policy.  Slightly more than fifty percent of agency components established a formal, written policy to implement and comply with Section 508.  The head of an agency or the agency’s office of the chief information officer established the majority of the agency components’ Section 508 policies.  Most Section 508 policies identified the office or person responsible, and defined some roles and responsibilities for Section 508 coordinators, requiring officials, contracting officers, application developers, and web content managers and authors.
  • Section 508 Office or Program.  Nearly seventy percent of agency components appointed a Section 508 coordinator.  Also, nearly thirty-five percent of agency components established a Section 508 office or program.  On average, agency components assigned 2.5 full time equivalents (FTEs) and allocated a budget of $413,497 to their Section 508 office or program. [8]  However, it is important to note that the average budget for larger agency components was significantly higher than the average budget for smaller agency components, which has an effect of skewing the figure.  Across all agency size categories, the median budget was $35,000 for their Section 508 office or program.  In addition, the most common service provided by agency components that had established a Section 508 office or program was to evaluate the accessibility of websites, and the least common service provided was to evaluate the accessibility of hardware.
  • Spending on IT and Section 508.  Agency components reported an average IT budget of $390,024,414.  However, it is important to note that the average IT budget for larger agency components is significantly higher than the average IT budget for smaller agency components, which has the effect of skewing the figure.  Also, nearly seventy percent of agency components reported allocating or using resources to implement and comply with Section 508.  However, eighty-five percent of agency components did not track their spending to implement and comply with Section 508.  Those agency components that tracked their spending, reported an average budget or spending of $5,785,963 to implement and comply with Section 508. [9]  However, again, it is important to note that the average budget for larger agency components was significantly higher than the average budget for smaller agency components, which has the effect of skewing the figure.  Across all agency size categories, the median spending was $140,000 to implement and comply with Section 508.  The most common service provided by agency components, regardless of whether they had established a Section 508 office or program, was to evaluate the accessibility of websites, and the least common service provided was to evaluate the accessibility of hardware.
  • Software and Other EIT.  Seventy-five percent of agency components reported developing software or web applications. About forty percent of these agency components reported establishing a policy to ensure the accessibility of software, including testing developed software for Section 508 compliance.  Nearly seventy-one percent of agency components reported developing training or informational videos or multimedia productions. About thirty percent of these agency components reported establishing a policy to ensure the accessibility of videos or multimedia productions, including testing developed videos or multimedia production for Section 508 compliance.
  • Section 508 Technical Requirements.  The percentage of agency components or parts of their components establishing policies to comply with each of the six subparts of the technical requirements of the Section 508 EIT Accessibility Standards varied from forty-three percent for self-contained, closed products to sixty percent for websites.
  • Section 508 Functional Performance Requirements.  Nearly fifty percent of agency components or parts of their components established formal, written policies to comply with the functional performance requirements in Section 508 EIT Accessibility Standards.  Thirty-three percent of agency components reported not establishing a policy and had no plans to establish a policy to comply with the functional performance requirements.
  • Section 508 Information and Documentation Requirements.  Website, E-mail, and large print were the most common alternate formats used by agency components to provide individuals with disabilities access to information and documentation for EIT products.  Braille was the least common alternate formats used by agency components.  Similarly, website, E-mail, TTY, and sign language were the most common alternate methods used by agency components.  Mobile texting was the least common alternate method used by agency components.
  • Section 508 Training.  Nearly sixty percent of agency components reported not providing Section 508 training to their employees.  Slightly more than forty percent of agency components reported providing Section 508 training.  Agency components reported providing the most average hours of training to Section 508 coordinators (a little more than four hours) and the fewest average hours of training to IT help desk staff (less than one hour).  Very small agency components reported the highest number of average hours of Section 508 training for many of the available types of employees.  A majority of agency components that offered training reported online training as the most common method for providing Section 508 training.  By contrast, mid-size agency components reported classroom instruction and conferences as their most common method for providing Section 508 training.
  • Section 508 Challenges.  Many agency components reported lack of resources, lack of general awareness, and lack of training as the three most common challenges in implementing and complying with Section 508.  By contrast, lack of management support was the least common challenge.  Interestingly, fifteen percent of agency components could not identify any challenges in implementing and complying with Section 508.
  • Other Rehabilitation Act Issues.  Nearly forty percent of agency components that provided federal financial assistance reported not having any knowledge whether recipients of federal financial assistance were required to ensure accessibility of websites and other EITs.  Another twenty-four percent of agency components did not require recipients to ensure accessibility of websites and other EITs.  Thirty-five percent of agency components or parts of their components reported requiring recipients of federal financial assistance to ensure accessibility of websites and other EITs.  Among these agency components, a majority reported establishing an EIT accessibility policy or parts of their components establishing an EIT accessibility policy for recipients of federal financial assistance.

via Section 508 Report to the President and Congress:  Accessibility of Federal Electronic and Information Technology.

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