USACM Comments on Proposed Federal Accessibility Standards and Guidelines

By Renee Dopplick, ACM Director of Public Policy
May 29, 2015

USACM yesterday submitted comments to the U.S. Access Board on updated federal accessibility standards and guidelines for information and communication technology (ICT) under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act. The current standards have been in place for roughly 15 years. The effort to revise these standards has been a multiyear process that is nearing its end. The updated standards will apply to websites, social media, mobile apps, interactive kiosks, wireless assistive devices, and other technologies.

Highlights from the public comment include:

Functional Performance Requirements
Functional performance requirements should be required, or strongly encouraged as a best practice, even when technical requirements are met. The purpose of accessibility requirements is first and foremost to ensure the ability of the user to access, use, and/or exchange information and data and to use computer and telecommunications equipment to accomplish these tasks. Given the rapid changes in technologies and the generally lengthy processes to develop and promulgate updated standards and guidelines, regulations reliant on functional performance requirements will provide better responsiveness to changes in technologies, including the flexibility to innovate and implement better solutions. Thus, functional performance requirements will better advance and balance the values of accessible participation, technical flexibility, and innovation.

WCAG Incorporation by Reference
USACM supports the incorporation by reference of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, an international standard, and its Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements. Harmonization with an international standard, rather than reliance on a separate national standard or modified restatement of the international standard’s requirements, will enable federal agencies, developers, and manufacturers to leverage a broader range of supporting materials, tools, training, and collaboration opportunities. USACM agrees that harmonization with international standards and guidelines will increase the likelihood of commercial availability of accessible products through larger marketplaces for accessible ICT. As an international consensus standard that is freely available to the public, WCAG 2.0 is a widely accepted and widely distributed standard.

Accessibility Compliance of Non-Web ICT
For non-web ICT, the Board should consider identifying additional guidance references issued by the W3C or other competent international authorities to help entities comply with WCAG accessibility compliance and to ensure ICT is both accessible and usable for people with disabilities. The Board also should consider requiring that websites, mobile apps, and software not block or interfere with content provided in widely accepted accessible formats.

The U.S. Access Board will consider the public comments and then issue a Final Rule, or, if there are significant changes requiring further comment, the Board might issue a further notice of proposed rulemaking (FNPRM). Once adopted, the standards and guidelines will have broad impacts on accessibility policy.