ETS: Technology Accessibility / Section 508 Compliance

Technology Accessibility / Section 508 Compliance

The Following is from a News Bytes Article in May 2003.

Section 508 is part of the federal law known as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Amendments to the Rehabilitation Act -- known as the Section 508 Standards for Electronic and Information Technology (EIT) -- went into effect in June 2001. These standards clarify how to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to technology.

The idea is that as vendors become more aware of how to make their products accessible, and requestors become more aware of Section 508-compliant products, EIT accessibility will improve.

For example, Web-based intranet and Internet information and applications must have a text equivalent for every non-text element. Telecommunications products must offer caller identification and similar telecommunications functions for users of TTYs, and for users who can't see displays.

The U.S. government follows these standards when acquiring any kind of EIT. This year, according to a new California law, all state entities -- including the Foothill - De Anza District -- also must follow Section 508 standards.

"The intent of the law is to effect change in the marketplace by motivating vendors to provide accessible products to the government, a large buyer," explained Wayne Chenoweth, faculty member and member of the ETAC Section 508 Educational Technology Advisory Committee (ETAC) subcommittee. "Over time, District technology will become more accessible to users with disabilities, and to everyone in general, as we follow Section 508 standards when we acquire new technology."

The idea is that as vendors become more aware of how to make their products accessible, and requestors become more aware of Section 508-compliant products, EIT accessibility will improve.

What is EIT?

EIT is nearly everything that runs on electricity in your office and learning environments. Here is a list of the different kinds of things the standards address:

  • Software Applicationsand OperatingSystems
  • Web-based Intranetand Internet Informationand Applications
  • TelecommunicationsProducts
  • Video and MultimediaProducts
  • Self Contained,Closed Products
  • Desktop and PortableComputers



How You Can Help

Raising your awareness of the issues at this point will help the most. You can read theSection 508 Standards in their entirety at the Section 508 Web site. A better way to learn about them might be to read the sections of interest in the onlineGuide to the Section 508 Standards for Electronic and Information Technology .

The federal government has also developed several training modules to help different types of users learn how to follow the Section 508 standards. They are located at the Section 508 Web site: . Select the 508 training link at the top of the page and login to take one or several of the trainings offered. Although the materials were written for federal employees, the content applies to our situation as well.


How will this impact the District and its technology?

ETAC is still assessing the impact of Section 508 to the District. ETAC has formed a Section 508 subcommittee to begin working through the procedures to implement the standards into the District's acquisition processes. You can follow the progress of the committee by reading the various drafts and other documents on the committee'sSection 508 Information Web site.

In a nutshell, Section 508 states that all new EIT acquisitions must meet these standards. If any EIT is found noncompliant, the District must purchase the most accessible EIT unless we claim an undue hardship. If we do claim a hardship, we must still provide an alternative. ETAC is working to develop a process that will be as simple as possible for requestors.

What actions are we taking to become compliant?

District Purchasing has a set of Standard Instructions and Conditions that already include the requirement for Section 508 compliance. The Section 508 ETAC subcommittee is working on procedures for requestors to follow when making new EIT purchases. As a test, all of the subcommittee members have volunteered to walk through a purchase using the procedures in their draft form to find any problems with the process.

"The process for developing the Section 508 procedures is similar to how the recent Computer Use policy was developed," Chenoweth said. "ETAC created an ad hoc committee to develop the policy, which then went through a series of iterations as the various District groups provided feedback. ETAC members bring the perspectives of their constituent groups to the process of developing the policy and procedures."

Several iterations of the procedures have emerged over the past few months as the subcommittee incorporated new ideas. The next step will be to request feedback on the drafted procedures from the District-at-large. Once the draft is finalized, the District will then roll out an education/training process for how to implement the procedures.