So, here we are in January 2018 and folks are seeing and hearing sporadic references to new Section 508 standards being in effect, but what exactly does that mean?
Back in July of last year I wrote a short article in regards to the new Information and Communication Technology (ICT) refresh for Section 508 standards, which incorporated major changes to the Section 508 accessibility requirements in that they now are in alignment with the more generally accepted WCAG 2.0 standards. These new directives were finalized January 2017 and became effective January 18th of this year for all federal agencies. In a nutshell, they make content more accessible to people with a wide range of disabilities, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning, and neurological disabilities.
However, while the new directive is now in full effect, it does allow for grandfathering those sites that were compliant with the previous Section 508 standards as of January 18th of this year. In these cases, if any substantive changes are made to these grandfathered sites, they must be to the new WCAG 2.0 standards as detailed in the new Section 508 directive. For any site non-compliant with the previous directive on January 18, adherence to WCAG 2.0 standards of the new directive is required.
So where does the Government stand right now in terms of compliance? It’s hard saying, but as I pointed out back in July of last year, only 58 percent of key Government websites were accessible for users with disabilities. Although some agencies can certainly perform accessibility assessment and remediation in-house, many others must rely on contracting these services out as the new requirements are not easy to understand and requires greater development experience to implement than traditional 508 standards. Interestingly, since the new standards were finalized, I have observed no increase in solicitations for Section 508 support and almost no solicitations with WCAG 2.0 requirements. Clearly this is anecdotal information, but from this I would assume the Government has fallen further behind on meeting mandated accessibility standards. Unfortunately, this inhibits meaningful online engagement with a growing segment of our population.
Stay tuned for some upcoming Artemis Consulting blogs on WCAG 2.0 and making the web more accessible.