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Assistive Conference Highlights Part Two: “FED Talk: Accessibility with the Access Board and GSA”

by Connor Courtien, RDPFS Intern

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that all federal government information and communication technologies remain accessible, explaining precisely what this covers. Timothy Creagan and Kathy Eng from the U.S. Access Board, as well as Michael Horton and Andrew Nielson from the General Services Administration (GSA), gave a comprehensive presentation about this aat the CSUN Assistive Technology Conference in March. Here are highlights:

The presenters noted that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for Section 508 is defined as “Information technology and other equipment, systems, technologies, or processes, for which the principal function is the creation, manipulation, storage, display, receipt, or transmission of electronic data and information, as well as any associated content.” Some examples are computers, kiosks, websites, and digital documents. Everything in this category must be fully accessible. Creagan cited an example, describing a significant case in the D.C. Circuit Court, Jahinnslerth Orozco v. Merrick Garland, where Orozco, a blind employee of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), filed a complaint seeking injunctive action against the FBI for inaccessible software he had to use in his job duties. This was initially thrown out by the court. “It was a denial of his right to receive services,” said Creagan. Fortunately, Orozco successfully appealed under Section 508. Nielson further explained that “You simply can’t have diversity, equity and inclusion without accessibility,” discussing President Biden’s Executive Order 14035 on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce. This order didn’t offer anything beyond existing regulations, but “It did state the intent for the executive government to become a model employer for people with disabilities,” according to Nielsen. Eng talked about the impact of the pandemic and the identification of accessibility issues with Microsoft Teams, noting that “We have a relationship with Microsoft where we’re able to connect with their essential developers and representatives to relay where all of these difficulties were. We shared user experiences, difficulties from the accessibility standpoint.” Eng also shared a resource, offered here, on considerations for accessible remote meetings by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). To facilitate accessibility, an ICT Testing Baseline for Web, available here has been developed. Co-owned by the S. Access Board and GSA, it covers procedures to make sure a website is Section 508 compliant. More baselines for other forms of ICT are in development.

More details are covered in the full presentation on YouTube.