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Revised 508 Standards, Safe Harbor and FAR Update

Over the past year, federal agencies have been working to transition to the Revised 508 Standards, which aim to make information technology more accessible to all users, and bring U.S. accessibility standards in line with international standards. The FAR Council is also working on regulatory updates to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), and as of January 18, 2018, agencies should proactively address the requirements of the Revised 508 Standards in their procurement processes. Note that all new or revised information and communication technology (ICT) must satisfy the Revised 508 Standards, but older ICT (previously referred to as Electronic and Information Technology (EIT)), providing that it was compliant with the Original 508 Standards, may fall under a “safe harbor” provision.

The IT Accessibility Team at GSA, in cooperation with the U.S. Access Board, is here to help you learn how to address the Revised 508 Standards, particularly in acquisitions. To that end, here is the latest guidance from the Access Board:

  • Revised Standards - As of January 18, 2018, Federal agencies must comply with the Revised 508 Standards, which were issued by the U.S. Access Board in January 2017. These revised standards are set forth at 36 C.F.R. § 1194.1 and Appendices A, C and D to Part 1194.
    • Information and communication technology (ICT) developed, maintained, or used by Federal agencies on or after this date must satisfy the updated scoping and technical requirements in the Revised 508 Standards.
  • Safe Harbor - The Revised 508 Standards also include a “safe harbor” provision for existing (i.e., legacy) ICT. Under this safe harbor, unaltered, existing ICT (including electronic content) that complies with the Original 508 Standards need not be modified or upgraded to conform to the Revised 508 Standards.
    • This safe harbor applies on an element-by-element basis to each component or portion of the existing ICT, with each component or portion assessed separately.
    • Existing, unaltered ICT that did not comply with the Original 508 Standards as of January 18, 2018 must now be brought into compliance with the Revised 508 Standards.
  • FAR Council Update - With respect to ICT procurements by Federal agencies, the Revised 508 Standards defer to the FAR Council to update the FAR, by incorporating the revised standards and establishing compliance dates for new and existing ICT procurements. The FAR Council is currently working on regulatory updates to the FAR.
    • While the process of updating the FAR is ongoing, Federal agencies must, at minimum, ensure that their ICT procurements continue to comply with all applicable, existing FAR requirements.
    • Given the impending updates to the FAR by the FAR Council and the current applicability of the Revised 508 Standards to all other 508-covered applications (i.e., development, maintenance, and use of ICT by Federal agencies), it is in the best interest of Federal agencies to start proactively incorporating the Revised 508 Standards now into their procurement planning and execution.

Please refer any questions to the Access Board. You can also find an extensive list of resources on our Revised 508 Standards Refresh Toolkit.

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