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Edited by Cynthia D. Waddell, Juris Doctor, International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet (ICDRI)

 

A.  Canada   
The Accessible Procurement Toolkit for Canada [1] is a web-based application that delivers accessibility guidelines and standards for use in the procurement process of mainstream ICT products and services. Developed by the Assistive Devices Industry Office, it was launched in 2000. As discussed in the learning example at eInclusion@EU [2], the toolkit can be used by:

  • Purchasing managers to inform public procurers of their product requirements;

  • Public procurers to add accessibility clauses to purchasing documents;

  • Manufacturers to see what standards might apply to their products for planning and development purposes; and

  • Vendors to compare the compliance level of their products to government or national standards.

Although Canada does not have specific federal legislation requiring the procurement of accessible ICT, regional procurement legislation is in effect for Ontario as part of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001. The tool applies various standards including the U.S. Section 508 Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards, the Canada Common Look and Feel Standards for the Internet [3],  and other best practices. As of the posting date of the learning example at eInclusion@EU, the tool had been used in “five major procurements and in two smaller procurements” [4]. The Accessible Procurement Toolkit is available online in both English and French language versions [5].

B. European Union

C. Ireland

D. Italy

E. Japan

F.  United States

U.S. Federal Government
The U.S. government procurement of electronic and information technology products and services underwent a radical change when Congress passed the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998. Also known as the Workforce Investment Act, Congress strengthened Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to provide a marketplace incentive for businesses to recover their investment in the development of accessible ICT. Although the law does not require businesses to develop accessible ICT, businesses who want to sell to the U.S. government must now address accessibility in their product design. By revising Section 508, the law prohibits federal agencies, with limited exceptions, from developing, purchasing, maintaining, or using electronic and information technology that are inaccessible to individuals with disabilities [6].

The purpose of the law is to ensure that federal employees and members of the public with disabilities have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access and use of the same information and data as members of the public without disabilities. Section 508 created specific, binding standards integrated into the federal procurement regulations in addition to establishing reporting requirements, an administrative complaint procedure and a private right of action against federal departments and agencies that do not implement Section 508. Although directly applicable to federal agencies, including the U.S. Postal Service, there has been an indirect impact at the State procurement level as discussed below.

The original version of Section 508 was enacted in 1986 and included general, non-binding guidelines regarding technology accessibility that had no enforcement mechanism. The fact that there was no agreement on what was meant by accessible design contributed to the lack of enforcement. Section 508, as amended (http://www.section508.gov/index.cfm?FuseAction=Content&ID=14) created specific binding processes to incorporate standards in the federal procurement regulations. In addition, Section 508 established reporting requirements, an administrative complaint procedure and a private right of action against federal departments and agencies that do not implement Section 508.

In March, 2000, the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (also known as the “Access Board”) initiated the public rulemaking process to establish the accessibility technical standards for ICT. On December 21, 2000, the Access Board published the Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards, Final Rule, found at 36 CFR Part 1194 and at http://www.access-board.gov/guidelines-and-standards/communications-and-it/about-the-section-508-standards [7].

The Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards cover the following areas:

  • Software applications and operating systems;

  • Web-based Intranet and Internet information and applications;

  • Telecommunications products;

  • Video and multimedia products (including television displays and computer equipment with display circuitry that receives, decodes and displays broadcasts, cable, videotape and DVD signals);

  • Self contained, closed products (having embedded software such as information kiosks, information transaction machines, copiers, printers, calculators and facsimile machines); and

  • Desktop and portable computers.

The Standards also include gap provisions for products that may not be designed to the technical standards but rather incorporate new methods, design or technologies to achieve accessibility. In addition, the Standards include a provision for Information, Documentation and Support requirements, specifically:

  • Product support documentation provided to end-users shall be made available tin alternate formats upon request, at no additional charge;

  • End-users shall have access to a description of the accessibility and compatibility features of products in alternate formats or alternate methods upon request, at no additional charge; and

  • Support services for products shall accommodate the communication needs of end-users with disabilities.

Note that the Section 508 standards are currently in the process of being reviewed [8] for changes in technology and to harmonize with new international accessibility standards for Web [9] and software applications [10]. It is anticipated that the U.S. Access Board will initiate public rulemaking to update the standards sometime in 2010.

Administratively, each federal agency has a Section 508 Coordinator residing in their Chief Information Technology Office who supports the agency Section 508 effort. The General Services Administration provides technical assistance federal-wide regarding Section 508 compliance and procurement of accessible ICT.

Compliance with the standards is required except in systems related to national security, systems that are located in spaces that are only frequented by service personnel, where a fundamental alteration to the system would be required in order to meet the standards or where it would pose an “undue burden”. Undue burden is defined as significant difficulty or expense. In determining whether an action would result in an undue burden, an agency shall consider all agency resources available to the program or component for which the product is being developed, procured, maintained, or used. If no conforming product is commercially available, the federal agency must procure the ICT product or service that “best meets” the standards.

Even if an agency or department finds compliance with this law an undue burden, the entity must still provide individuals with disabilities with the information and data involved by an alternative means of access that allows the individual to use the information and data. In addition, the entity must provide documentation to support the reasons why compliance reaches the level of undue burden. 

A web-based tool, the Buy Accessible Wizard, was developed for federal agency procurers to assist procurers of ICT products and services to comply with Section 508. This tool is used by federal agencies and is open for public use. It resides on the U.S. General Services Administration web portal gateway along with resources and tools for meeting Section 508 requirements [11].


[1] This section is reproduced from Ibid., pp. 31-32.
[2] See eInclusion@EU Learning Examples: Accessible Procurement Toolkits Denmark, Canada and USA: Description and Synopsis at http://einclusion.hu/2007-09-30/accessible-procurement-toolkits-denmark-canada-and-usa-description-and-synopsis/, a project website supporting Information Society policy-making in Europe by strengthening eInclusion and eAccessibility across Europe.
[3] Common Look and Feel Standards for the Internet, Treasury Board of Canada, at http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/clf-nsi/index_e.asp
[4] See eInclusion@EU, supra, p. 11.
[5] See Accessible Procurement Toolkit at http://www.ap-toolkit.info.
[6] See 29 U.S.C. § 794d at http://www.access-board.gov/sec508/guide/act.htm
[7] For the Spanish version of the accessibility standards, see http://www.access-board.gov/en-espanol/420-ada-aba-guidelines-en-espa%C3%B1ol
[8] See http://www.access-board.gov/
[9] W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 2.0 http://www.w3.org/TR/2008/REC-WCAG20-20081211/
[10] ISO/IEC 9241-171:2008 Ergonomics of human-system interaction -- Part 171: Guidance on software accessibility http://www.iso.org/iso/iso_catalogue/catalogue_tc/catalogue_detail.htm?csnumber=39080
[11] See Buy Accessible Wizard at http://www.buyaccessible.gov