President Obama was barely in office when his Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government ordered that government information and data be accessible to all citizens. Monday (July 19), the White House told federal agencies to step that mission up a notch in the area of electronic and information technologies (EIT), noting that Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 means that a blind or visually-impaired person must be able to consume information on an agency’s website; a federal employee who is deaf or hard of hearing must be able to access an agency’s webcast training; and an individual in a wheelchair must be able to make photocopies.
As a practical matter for government agencies that use internal or external web video, that means video captioning for the deaf or hard of hearing, and audio descriptions of video content for the blind or visually impaired.
“While some agencies have made progress in this area, all agencies must make accessibility a cornerstone of their open government plans,” the Office of Management and Budget said in the July 19 memo.
The GSA has created a number of tools to this end, available at www.Section508.gov. That website also includes a blog where stakeholders may share ideas and success stories, or engage in conversations on improving accessibility.
Also, OMB said that within 180 days, the GSA Office of Governmentwide Policy (OGP) will provide updated guidance on making government EIT-accessible, and will update its general Section 508 training to offer refreshed continuous learning modules that can be used by contracting officers, program/project managers (especially those managing IT programs), and contracting officer technical representatives (COTRs) as they fulfill their Federal Acquisition Certification requirements.
In September 2010, the GSA OGP and the Justice Department will issue a survey to allow agencies to assess their implementation of Section 508, including accessibility of websites and other technology used by the agencies. This information will be used by the DOJ in preparing its next assessment of agency compliance as required by the Rehabilitation Act. The CIOC Accessibility Committee will also use this information to identify best practices and lessons learned.
Next spring (2011), the DOJ will issue a progress report on federal agency compliance with Section 508, the first since 2004. Going forward, DOJ will meet its obligation to issue a report biennially.
Beginning in Fiscal Year 2011, the GSA OGP will begin providing OMB a quarterly summary report containing results of Section 508 reviews of a sample of solicitations posted on FedBizOpps.gov.
And, OMB wants to hear from the public and interested members of government. Within 60 days, the GSA OGP and the U.S. Access Board, in collaboration with the Chief Acquisition Officers Council (CAOC) and CIOC, will design listening sessions and will research technology solutions to facilitate such sessions. The sessions will be an opportunity for the government and interested members of the public to address concerns and propose ideas. Feedback from the sessions will be used by, and shared across, agencies to improve accessibility and usability.
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