Section 508 Update
Acknowledgement: Office of Equal Employment and Diversity Management, FDA
The goal of the Section 508 law (part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, amended in 1998) is to reduce electronic and information technology barriers experienced by people with disabilities. Under this law, the Federal Government is required to purchase and deploy new IT and other electronic products that are accessible or compatible with assistive technology used by people with disabilities.
In a memo to all HHS employees dated August 30, 2001, Secretary Thompson called this law an exciting opportunity to help close the digital divide for individuals with disabilities in America.
"Section 508 affects every employee within the Department, not just those who work with technology or procurement. Every HHS employee has a collective responsibility for compliance with Section 508's mandate to make our information accessible to individuals with disabilities. This means that HHS employees must take proactive actions to ensure that all electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used, and all new or revised information made available on the Internet and Intranet meet the new accessibility standards."
The accessibility standards provide technology access to members of the public and Federal employees who have disabilities. Lawsuits may be filed in federal court or administrative complaints may be filed with Agencies or the Department of Justice for non-compliance with the law.
Even if you don't currently have any employees with disabilities working within your office, someone may soon be hired who has a disability, or through an illness or accident someone within your staff may become disabled while on the job. In these cases, assistive technology related accommodations for staff can be obtained on a case by case basis via the Department of Defense's Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program1 and additional services are available via the USDA's TARGET Center (on-site assessments and demonstrations of assistive technology).
The objective of Section 508 is to create an environment where everyone can work, and in which you can attract and hire people with disabilities. Thus, Section 508 is in direct alignment with the President's New Freedom Initiative goals and objectives.
The Department, on January 6, 2005 issued the Section 508 Implementation Policy on how Section 508 must be addressed by HHS OPDIVs and STAFFDIVs. Companion guidance, under development, will outline the OPDIVs/STAFFDIVs required implementation plans. Examples of the parameters that must be included in respective plans are:
The HHS Office on Disability is coordinating the creation of no-cost training and technical assistance for all HHS employees. This training will include several tiers of training, including an online module for all employees; a basic training geared towards agency management team members, authorizing officials, and requiring officials for procurements; and a more intensive 508 training for those directly involved in Section 508 policy implementation, including IT technical leads, procurement staff, call center directors, and application/web designers.
GSA sponsors a website devoted to providing resources for understanding and complying with the requirements of Section 508 at www.section508.gov. Recently the GSA posted a new course module for Credit Card purchasers outlining the new requirements for Section 508 purchases under $2,500, which will go into effect on April 1, 2005. They also recently updated an online course titled "Acquiring Technology, What Every Federal Employee Needs to Know About Section 508." They have links to a broad array of tools to assist in Section 508 implementation, and online courses available on: designing accessible websites, accessible conferences, buying accessible E&IT (requiring officials and contracting officers), Section 508 Coordinators, additional accessibility and usability concerns, accessible video and multimedia, building and buying accessible software, buying accessible computers, self-contained closed products, along a course by the IRS on accessible software development.
Successful implementation of Section 508 requires the support of every Federal employee who may be responsible for incorporating Section 508 into the design or development of IT systems requirements, or the development of web pages and their content. Any time there is a purchase request of any electronic or information technology, or at any stage in the procurement or IT development process, Section 508 accessibility requirements must be implemented.
For more information on Section 508, check out www.section508.gov, contact your agency Section 508 Official, or call the HHS Office on Disability.
1DOD CAP provides Assistive Technology as a form of accommodation to provide a qualified staff person with a disability the capacity to perform the essential function of their job. HHS has a memorandum of agreement with CAP allowing access to their specialized services to assist all OPDIVs and STAFFDIVs in meeting their Assistive Technology accommodation needs.
Last revised: January 24, 2005