ITAA: Final 508 Disability Rule Could Delay Gov't Purchases

The final rule intended to make information technology accessible to federal workers with disabilities will likely delay the government procurement process, according to the Information Technology Association of America.

The rule, issued April 25 by the Federal Acquisition Regulation Council, incorporates into the procurement process standards on technology accessibility issued by the Access Board. The board is an independent federal agency devoted to accessibility for people with disabilities. The FAR Council sets the standards for government procurement.

Because the final rule applies to contracts awarded as of June 25, solicitations issued weeks or months ago may have to be modified before they are awarded, slowing down the procurement process, said Olga Grkavac, executive vice president of the ITAA Enterprise Solutions Division in Arlington, Va. The ITAA represents more than 500 member companies from the IT industry.

ITAA had recommended that the final rule apply only to projects for which contract solicitations were issued as of June 25. In that case, the rule would not apply to contracts if the bidding process had begun before the effective date. That way, program officials would not have to retrace their steps and perhaps delay projects to comply with the rule.

"Our understanding was that [the rule] was prospective," Grkavac said. "It was our interpretation that Congress intended to give six full months" for agencies and vendors to comply with the standards, which were issued by the Access Board Dec. 20, 2000.

"We don't see how it could not" slow down the procurement process, Grkavac said.

Further complicating the issue is the fact that federal agencies have to comply with Access Board standards for accessibility beginning June 21, but the procurement rule doesn't go into effect until June 25.

The gap, however, shouldn't be a huge problem, Grkavac said.

"It'll cause a little bit of confusion, but not much," she said.

The standards require that all new electronic and information technology purchased by the federal government must be accessible to people with disabilities, unless the purchasing agency can show an undue burden in doing so. In addition, all IT products altered after June 21 must be accessible. For instance, if a federal worker changes the Web site of the Education Department, the altered portion must be accessible.

The standards, required by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998, apply to software and operating systems, Web-based applications and information, telecommunications products, video and multimedia products, desktop and portable computers and self-contained products, such as information kiosks.

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