Editor’s note: Not only is making your content accessible the right thing to do, it’s also the law in many cases in the United States. For example, federal agencies are required to make their digital content accessible under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. To support accessibility efforts, the Learning and Resource Center is creating a series on the topic, spanning from digital documents, websites, webinars, e-learning, and more. This article highlights recent, time-sensitive legislation that impacts federal agencies.
President Biden signed H.R. 2617 into law at the end of December 2022 and accessibility advocates say this bill provides significant progress for the disability community.
The bill builds on the landmark Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 508), which requires federal agencies to make electronic information accessible to people with disabilities to ensure everyone has equitable access to government information. However, a recent report by the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging reviewed the federal government’s commitment to accessibility and found gaps that stretch across agencies. Accountability measures from the 1990s have not been consistently implemented, providing taxpayers with little information about the government’s progress toward accessibility for all citizens.
In an effort to address these shortfalls, the spending bill H.R. 2617 included three major components.
First, it requires the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and coordinating stakeholders to provide “amended or updated criteria and instructions” to any federal department or agency that is required to adhere to Section 508 requirements within 100 days from when the law is enacted. Under that timeline, federal agencies and their stakeholders can look forward to this guidance by the beginning of April 2023.
The criteria and instructions must:
- Include requirements that IT and digital services conform to technical standards referenced in Section 508.
- Consider accessibility and usability based on consultation from individuals with disabilities and their advocates.
- Provide guidance to agencies regarding acceptable data and information reporting requirements, including submission requirements, metrics for assessment, and any other directions necessary for agency compliance with Section 508.
Second, the new law requires agencies to evaluate and report on their compliance with 508 standards within 225 days of the law’s enactment. Federal agencies should expect to provide these reports by mid- to late July 2023.
- Compare access between people with disabilities and those without disabilities.
- Evaluate their electronic and information technology in accordance with the criteria and instructions mentioned above.
- Submit a report of their evaluations to OMB and the General Services Administration (GSA).
Designers and e-learning specialists: Check out our accessibility series for key accessibility terms you need to know and tips on how to get started in digital document accessibility.
Finally, the bill requires OMB and GSA to provide:
- Annual reporting on agencies’ compliance with the aforementioned criteria and instructions.
- A detailed description of efforts made by GSA to support compliance and any planned efforts to improve compliance at agencies.
- A list of recommendations that agencies or Congress may take to help support that compliance.
These reports must be available on a public website and will be maintained for unencumbered and accessible public review.
The first annual report must be provided no later than one year after the enactment of the bill, meaning the public can expect to see the inaugural report in December 2023.
While we don’t yet know the full impact of this bill, it’s clear the government is prioritizing accessibility for all users. Agencies need to be on alert and start training staff and developing their policies and systems to meet this bill’s requirements.
Not sure how to get started meeting the accessibility requirements of Section 508 or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? Contact us out to learn more about how we can support your organization in your efforts to provide equitable digital access to people with disabilities.
About the Authoring Team
This resource was written by Learning and Resource Center (LRC) staffer Heidi Freymiller with support from other LRC experts.
TriMetrix’s LRC works with subject matter experts to make content and messaging come alive for audiences through print and digital content and innovative learning solutions.