1. Adopt a Social Responsibility Perspective for Accessibility
Agencies unintentionally erect barriers to participation and inclusion for people with disabilities; however, a shift in perspective can fundamentally change their approach to accessibility (i.e., the staircase creates the barrier, not the wheelchair). Agencies that adopt a proactive position—actively seeking to prevent access barriers—will do much better than those who address accessibility as an accommodation “they have to do.”
2. Manage Accessibility
The Section 508 office must be visible, backed by policies that lend it authority, and have access to IT decision-makers. There are many accessibility stakeholders within an agency, and to establish and maintain relationships with those components, organizational placement and structure are primary concerns for management.
3. Treat Accessibility like Security
Much like security, agencies dedicate resources to accessibility and Section 508 reluctantly. They see it as a legal obligation while overlooking the benefits—improved usability for all users, increased productivity for employees with disabilities, and better online access to Internet government services. Under resourcing accessibility underestimates the consequences—slipping project schedules, cost overruns to retrofit projects whose design did not include accessibility, and the consequences of legal action that can include judges making agency IT decisions.
4. Design and Plan for Accessibility
Designing for accessibility starts at the concept phase, and thus requires formal inclusion in multiple phases of an organization’s development and procurement life cycles. Having a single process approval gate at the end of a project is not sufficient, because by then it is too late. Large and important project approval will likely trump retrofitting for accessibility, and adopting an inaccessible project exposes the agency to avoidable legal risk. Retrofitting applications and remediating accessibility issues is more costly, difficult, and time consuming than addressing accessibility at a project’s design phase, so take a proactive approach and place accessibility requirements into the life cycle early and often.
5. Procure Accessible Information and Communication Technology (ICT)
Section 508 uses the “power of the purse” to improve the accessibility of products and services in the marketplace, but it is only effective when applied uniformly across many agencies. Do more than ask about accessibility; establish product and service accessibility criteria and validate accessibility claims with testing. Accessibility does not terminate with the purchase of products. Regardless of whether an agency or vendor performs integration, the agency must establish implementation guidance and acceptance criteria.
6. Impose Targeted Standards
Ensure Section 508 standards are included in your agency policies, development life cycle processes, and as minimum requirements for all procurements. Describe how the agency will interpret the Section 508 standards and how they integrate with other agency specific accessibility requirements. Specify how the agency will evaluate accessibility requirements.
7. Test and Validate
An agency must evaluate and test products, applications, and electronic content if it wants positive and measurable accessibility outcomes. Vendor claims and, for that matter, agency development group claims are meaningless without scrutiny and a method to measure accessibility progress. As you prioritize what is tested, understand that validation is fundamental to improving accessibility.
8. Study and Use Best Practices
Successful accessibility programs have many practices in common. Benefit from the best practices applicable to your agency, continue to evaluate and mature your accessibility program by learning from other agencies, and participate in communities of practice.
9. Participate in and Join Communities of Practice
Communities of practice are important for sharing ideas, expertise, and creating a uniform marketplace for ICT. Participate in Section 508 Coordinator workshops, interagency ad hoc committees, and comment on Notices of Public Rule Making. Consider participating in communities of practice beyond US Federal agencies. Section 508 spotlights the federal sector, but outside communities of practice are eager for agency participation. Take advantage of their wealth of expertise, creativity, technical guidance, process approaches, and policy examples.
10. Employ People with Disabilities
Actively recruit qualified individuals with disabilities. President Obama signed Executive Order 13548 (Increasing Federal Employment of Individuals with Disabilities) with the intention of making the US Federal government a model employer for people with disabilities. Agencies have many tools to help them actively recruit these qualified applicants. Visit Disability.gov for more information.