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Integrating Accessibility into Agency Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (DEIA) Implementation Plans

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.

Recent Guidance

The White House has released several DEIA-related communications including: excutive orders, a strategic plan and other guidance.

Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities

The Executive Order (EO) on “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities” requires federal agencies to assess whether their programs and policies perpetuate systemic barriers to opportunities and benefits for people of color and other underserved groups. The order directs federal agencies to submit equity action plans that establish public commitments for mission delivery.

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce

The EO on “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce” directs federal agencies to strengthen the federal workforce through improvements to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA). The order calls for a government-wide DEIA strategic plan, and charges each agency to analyze barriers to employment opportunities and develop DEIA strategic plans to address these barriers. The EO also highlights digital equity for federal employees with disabilities, calling for the federal government to ensure that “applicants and employees with disabilities have access to information about, understand their rights to, and may easily request reasonable accommodations, workplace personal assistance services, and accessible information and communication technology.”

GSA’s Equity Action Plan is a set of public commitments to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility through our mission delivery. You can learn more about GSA’s diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility efforts on GSA’s DEIA website.

Agency Responsibilities

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 Recommendations and Resources to Assist Agencies in Identifying and Advancing Priorities for Facility Accessibility..

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.

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.

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.

Content Creators

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.

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.

Reviewed/Updated: August 2023

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