The impetus for accessible electronic and information technology was driven by federal initiatives with the objective of “bridging the digital divide” (U. S. Department of Commerce, National Telecommunications and Information Administration, 2000). This initiative focused on improving quality and longevity of life, addressing social disparities, promoting small businesses, and providing educational opportunities, among others. As an outgrowth of this initiative, the concept of building an “information society for all” was promoted in the form of universal usability of all electronic and information technology. The long-term goal was to ensure that no one was left behind in terms of inaccessible electronic and information technology. In 1998, congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 19731 with section 508 to require federal agencies to make electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. Section 508 was enacted to eliminate barriers in electronic and information technology, make available new opportunities for people with disabilities, and encourage the development of technologies that will help achieve these goals (www.section508.gov). The law applies to all federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology. Under section 508, agencies must give disabled federal government employees and citizens access to information that is comparable to the access available to others without disabilities.
Section 508, which went into effect in June 2001, requires all federal agencies to comply with accessibility standards administered by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (referred to as the Access Board).2 These standards ensure that electronic and information technology is accessible to disabled persons to the extent it does not pose an undue burden on an agency. When section 508 went into effect, federal agencies could no longer procure noncompliant electronic and information technology (Charles, 2001). This meant that vendors, who supply hardware, software, Web, telecommunications, and other information technologies, must ensure compliance with section 508 accessibility in order to obtain government contracts.
The Access Board put together the Electronic and Information Technology Access Advisory Committee (EITAAC) in order to develop section 508 standards. The EITAAC is comprised of industry, government, academic, and disability advocacy organizations. The EITAAC (1999) developed generic standards that were organized into three areas including: (1) accessibility of operation and information, (2) compatibility with peripheral devices, and (3) documentation and services associated with electronic and information technology. The committee made recommendations for implementation of section 508, formalized a definition of electronic and information technology for interpreting the statute, and developed recommendations for procurement processes.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Screen Reader: Speech synthesis software used by a vision-impaired person to read aloud what is displayed on a computer screen.
Electronic and Information Technology: Information technology and any equipment or interconnected system or subsystem of equipment used in the creation, conversion, or duplication of data or information ( www.access-board.gov ).
Motor Disabilities: Physical impairments that can impede movement, coordination, or sensation. They can include weakness and lack of muscle control.
Web Accessibility: Web accessibility means that a person, regardless of disabilities, is able to use Web technology without encountering any barriers.
Color Deficiency: Color deficient vision results in an inability to distinguish certain colors and shades when compared to normal vision.
Section 508: Amendment to the 1973 Rehabilitation Act requiring federal agencies to make electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities.
Digital Divide: The digital divide is the gap between those who have access to electronic and information technology and those who do not.
Assistive Technology: Equipment, device, or other product that assists a disabled user in performing tasks that otherwise would be difficult or not possible to accomplish.