Section 508 micropurchase exemption extended

Federal information technology vendors will have until Oct. 1, 2004, to ensure that government purchasers of electronic and IT products under $2,500 are able to buy goods that comply with Section 508 technical standards. The Section 508 micropurchase exemption had been set to expire Jan. 1. An interim Federal Acquisition Regulation rule published Dec. 31 in the Federal Register extended it.

The standards, required by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998, went into effect June 25, 2001. They are designed to provide equal access to technologies for disabled government workers and citizens who use government Web sites.

Micropurchases are usually made by government personnel using a purchase card. These personnel generally are not contracting officers, thus making it difficult for them to comply with the standards unless commercial products are labeled for standards compliance, according to the Federal Register. The Civilian Agency Acquisition Council and the Defense Acquisition Regulations Council agreed to the interim rule because "industry is providing products at varying levels of conformance to the standards, and product packaging does not currently provide Section 508 conformance information, in most cases," according to the Federal Register.

"The original expectation was that industry would be able to conform to the standards and packaged software would be labeled as to its accessibility by the manufacturer by now. If the rule had not been extended, all IT purchases using credit cards would have to cease and would have to go through procurement officers, putting a burden on the agencies," a GSA spokeswoman said. "By Oct. 1, 2004, we are hopeful that vendors will provide statements related to product conformance to the Section 508 standards on their packages."

Industry experts said they support the micropurchase exemption extension, and said they have not been asked or required to provide accessibility information on their packaging.

"We continue to believe that the complex Section 508 standards would be difficult for purchase card holders to understand without significant training and education. Therefore, we would support the final rule extending this exemption," said Olga Grkavac, executive vice president of the Information Technology Association of America in Arlington, Va.

Some vendors offer product accessibility information on special templates published on their Web sites.

"As more vendors offer the accessibility templates, it will become easier and easier for even the most uninformed government buyer to do the research on [Section 508]," said accessibility consultant Rex Lint, who serves as chairman of ITAA's Section 508 working group.

Lint said he hasn't seen a formal suggestion from government to industry that vendors include Section 508 information on their product packaging. Because the standards are so complex, including such information would be difficult, industry experts said.

"In the same way an intelligent consumer goes off and does some market research, I wouldn't expect to find all that information on the packaging, but I would expect to find it available. What a wonderful thing the World Wide Web is," Lint said.

Comments to be considered in the formulation of a final rule will be accepted until March 3. Comments should be sent via e-mail to farcase.2002-012@gsa.gov. The councils asked industry respondents to address in their comments:

*The training they provide for hardware and software developers and salespersons about the Section 508 requirements;

*If and when their products will be labeled with accessibility information;

*If their company has a complete template of accessibility information for each of its products and services on its Web site, and if not, why not;

*How they provide accessibility information about their products to government purchasers; and

*What the government should do to ensure that electronic and IT micro-purchases are accessible.


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