The Law enacting Section 508 (29 U.S.C. 794d) directed the Access Board to develop a standard for accessibility of EIT. That standard is the only standard in the US that federal agencies must follow when they develop, procure, maintain or use electronic and information technology. However, there are several government-supported efforts around the world working on a “standards approach” to ensuring accessibility of EIT (or ICT - Information and Communications Technology, a commonly used term worldwide) for people with disabilities. No single worldwide standard has been developed, and to date there is no plan to develop a single standard. Other efforts include:
- Standard - EN 301 549: European Standard on “Accessibility requirements suitable for public procurement of ICT products and services in Europe”. The Standard EN 301 549 was produced in 2014 by the three European Standardization Organizations CEN, CENELEC and ETSI in response to a request from the European Commission (Mandate 376).
- International Policies Relating to Web Accessibility (W3C): links to information on government policies relating to Web accessibility in different countries around the world.
It is important that the accessibility standards produced by the various groups working worldwide are harmonized, i.e. they do not contradict each other. To that end, the different standards-making bodies meet from time to time to review progress and identify potential areas of conflict and action steps to resolve conflicts. Vendors are particularly interested in harmonization to ensure the products they make can be sold in all markets worldwide. Without harmonization, conflicting standards force vendors to produce the same product in more than one configuration-each configuration conforming to a different standard-resulting in manufacturing inefficiencies and a slower rate of growth for EIT/ICT technology in general. International and national standards are a key to agency Section 508 compliance, since agencies must rely on industry both to develop products and services that conform to Section 508 and to document how their products and services conform. The Nationals Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) estimates regulations and standards affect 80% of global trade and $200 billion in trade between US and Europe.
GSA’s Role in ICT Policy and Standards
In addition to a role in acquisition of government supplies and services, GSA has been designated the “executive agent for Government-wide acquisitions of information technology” (OMB Memorandum M-05-24). The ICT industry is one of the fastest growing and innovative industrial markets. ICT standards are important to government functioning. Such standards promote efficiencies of information sharing and use within and across agency boundaries through the development of standard infrastructures such as email, communication networks, word processing programs, etc.
National and international harmonization depends on GSA maintaining its leadership position in ICT accessibility standards and tools and methods for conformance. GSA will continue its work with the Access Board and US standards bodies, including NIST, to harmonize accessibility standards with other nations, to increase the impact of these standards on industry decision-making about how they develop and market their products/services. If realized, harmonization would eliminate the possibility of fragmented and conflicting sets of accessibility requirements coming from different nations or states, thus establishing a strong, coordinated international industry segment with sufficient magnitude to entice the ICT industry to address our accessibility requirements as key needs as they develop and market ICT.