Accessibility, the “A” in DEIA, is a foundation on which the federal workforce must build diversity, equity and inclusion for people with disabilities. Without accessibility, we cannot truly achieve the others.
This guide is designed to support Federal Agencies with implemention of President Biden’s Executive Order (14035) and subsequent Government-wide Strategic Plan to Advance Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce. More specifically, this guidance can help agencies implement elements of the Accessibility Roadmap outlined in the Government-wide DEIA Strategic Plan.
Agencies must consistently design, construct, develop, and maintain facilities, technology, programs, and services from the onset so that all people, including people with disabilities, can fully and independently use them. This requires the federal government’s commitment to accessibility, including proactive engagement with users and efforts to modernize infrastructures to support the rapid adoption of technological innovations. To meet this mandate, it requires all of us – public servants at all levels of every agency – to contribute to the advancement of DEIA in the federal workforce.
To support this work, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in consultation with the General Services Administration (GSA), U.S. Access Board, and the Chief Information Officers Council (CIOC), will review existing accessibility guidance and best practices and make neccesary updates to help agencies build and sustain an accessible federal technology environment. The guidance contained in this article, produced by GSA’s Government-wide IT Accessibility Program, is a preliminary step before offering broader updates to guidance and best practices materials to meet this objective. This guidance also focuses solely on Information Technology (IT) or Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Accessibility. For additional guidance on accessibility of physical facilities, refer to GSA’s guidance on Accessible Facility Design and the U.S. Access Board’s Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Standards.
IT Accessibility and Agency Implementation of Section 508 Requirements
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 USC §794d) requires agencies to ensure that the ICT they develop, purchase, maintain or use is accessible to people with disabilities. For various types of ICT, the Section 508 Standards (36 CFR 1194) specify the criteria that ICT must satisfy to be considered accessible under the Section 508 law.
To help agencies institute the programs, policies, and management practices necessary to satisfy the requirements of Section 508, we have developed two principle resources:
- Executive Guide to Federal IT Accessibility - Provides a broad overview of the benefits of accessibility, management practices, and accessibility considerations for various phases of technology development and implementation lifecycles
- Technology Accessibility Playbook - Provides a framework for the integration of strategic, business and technology management practices, with twelve key “plays” for maturing a Section 508 Program to ensure technology is accessible for people with disabilities
The remainder of this article provides references to more detailed information that is essential for the implemention of elements of the DEIA Strategic Plan’s Accessibility Roadmap.
Guidance, Resources and Technical Assistance
As required by the DEIA Accessibility Roadmap, the federal government must proactively, and consistently design, construct, develop, and maintain facilities, technology, programs, and services so that all people, including people with disabilities, can fully and independently use them.
Many information and communications technology accessibility standards and best practices were established, and have been continually improved over the last two decades. Agencies have many resources currently available to them when seeking to educate their workforce, and integrate IT accessibility into existing and new ways of doing business. Support is available from this website and the GSA Government-wide IT Accessibility team, agency Section 508 Program Managers and agency intranets, and the Accessibility Community of Practice.
For agencies to “Buy. Build. Be Accessible.”, everyone must understand their role and responsibility to make the Federal Government “a model for diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, where all employees are treated with dignity and respect.” (EO 14035).
Below are resources aligned with the DEIA Strategic Plan by role:
Section 508 Program Managers
Mature agencies demonstrate the ability to educate and train the workforce regarding individual responsibilities. They also measure and monitor conformance to policies and actual compliance levels, and they use data to drive decision making to improve the effectiveness of their overall Section 508 program.
- Quick Guide to IT Accessibility for Program Managers - Learn how to build an effective IT accessibility program, and ensure that the technology your agency buys, builds, and uses, is accessible for all
- Technology Accessibility Playbook - Framework for the integration of strategic, business, and technology management to ensure US Federal Government technology is accessible for people with disabilities
- Play 2: Assess your Section 508 program maturity - An assessment of your agency’s Section 508 program maturity is essential to gauge where you are, and to determine what steps are necessary to improve your program
- Play 12: Educate the workforce - Increasing the awareness of the needs of people with disabilities. This is an important step towards achieving DEIA goals; see also Online Training Courses
Acquisition and Requirements Professionals
All ICT procured, developed, maintained, or used by Federal agencies must be accessible. ICT includes software, hardware, electronic content, support documentation, and services. Contracting professionals are the first in a series of individuals who must confirm that accessibility is considered to ensure equal access to all, and avoid risk and cost associated with non-conformance.
- Accessibility Requirement Tool (ART) - Generate standardized Section 508 language to include appropriate Section 508 accessibility standards in requirements and acquisition planning documents and agreements
- Buy Accessible Products and Services - Guidance on including Section 508 from the beginning of the ICT procurement to avoid surprises during or after implementation
- Sell Accessible Products and Services - Guidance on how to do business with the Federal government, and demonstrate that your ICT product or service is accessible
Product Owners, Business Analysts, Designers, Project Managers, Developers, and Testers
The development and deployment phase of any IT product is shared by teams of individuals, each with their own roles and responsibilities. Collectively, they should work as a team to regularly assess their product against accessibility standards to support equitable access and to remove potential barriers, and that it is conformant with the Revised Section 508 Standards before deployment.
- Design and Develop Accessible Products - Customer experiences are best when all customers are considered in the design process
- Universal Design - When you design for the extremes, everyone is included
- ICT Testing Baseline for Web - Standardized minimum tests and evaluation guidance that determine whether Web content meets Section 508 requirements
- Guide to Accessible Web Design & Development - This guide recaps relevant Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) requirements and calls out specific considerations for content, design, and development
- Trusted Tester Training - No-cost training for individuals on how to manually test for conformance
- Testing Tools - No-cost tools for testing websites and web-based applications
- U.S. Web Design System (USWDS) - A design system for the federal government that incorporates accessibility as a core design consideration
Agency Section 508 programs are designed to provide enterprise-wide awareness, guidance, training and technical assistance. However, they are unable to simply make something accessible after it’s been created. Content creators have access to training and tools that allow them to produce accessible information and digital services that anyone can access and use.
- Create Accessible Digital Products - Guidance, how-tos, and video tutorials on creating documents, audio and video media presentations, and other content:
- Video, Audio, Virtual Meetings and Social Media - Guidance on captioning, audio descriptions, and transcripts/text descriptions for visual and audio media
- Synchronized Media - Learn how to develop high quality audio, video, and multimedia that is accessible to users who cannot see visual information, or hear information conveyed using sound
Meeting Hosts and Presenters
In response to a global health epidemic, how agencies gather, collaborate, discuss, share, and learn has changed from largely in-person meetings and conference calls to virtual meetings where the audience participates remotely through voice and video from their homes. As federal employees return to their offices, meetings are expected to be a hybrid of in-person and remote participants. Accessibility can and should be seamlessly integrated into these hybrid meetings.
- Create Accessible Meetings - Step-by-step guidance on how you can make your next meeting accessible to all attendees, regardless of ability
- Create Accessible Digital Products - Guidance, how-tos, and video tutorials on creating documents, audio and video media presentations, and other content