Electronic and Information Technology Standards:  Background

The Board developed standards for electronic and information technology under the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments requires that when Federal departments or agencies develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology, they shall ensure that the technology is accessible to people with disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the department or agency. The standards cover various means for disseminating information, including computers, software, and electronic office equipment in the Federal sector. They provide technical criteria specific to various types of technologies and performance-based requirements, which focus on the functional capabilities of covered technologies. Specific criteria cover software applications and operating systems; web-based information or applications; telecommunications products; video or multi-media products; self contained, closed products such as information kiosks and transaction machines, and computers. Further information is available on the Section 508 page.

Current Status: On December 21, 2000, the Board issued final standards for electronic and information technology, which completes this rulemaking.

What’s Next: No further action by the Board is needed. The Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council incorporated these standards into the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) through a final rule published on April 25, 2001.

Background: In September 1998, the Board created an advisory committee to make recommendations on the standards to be developed. The Electronic and Information Technology Access Advisory Committee contained 27 members representing industry, various disability organizations, and other groups with an interest in the issues to be addressed. The advisory committee unveiled its recommendations in the form of a final report it submitted to the Board in May 1999. The report recommended performance-based standards due to the variety of access needs among users and the range and ever-changing nature of the technology involved. Access is addressed for people with physical, sensory, and cognitive disabilities. The recommendations establish criteria that would allow people with disabilities to locate, identify, and operate all of the input, control and mechanical functions, and to access available information.

On March 31, 2000, the Board published proposed standards based closely on the committee's report. The proposed standards were available for public comment for 60 days through publication in the Federal Register. The Board sought information and comment on various issues through questions it posed in a discussion provided in the proposed rule. Over 100 individuals and organizations submitted comments on the standards. Comments were submitted by Federal agencies, representatives of the information technology industry, disability groups, and persons with disabilities. The Board finalized the standards according to its review of the comments. The final standards, which will become part of the Federal Acquisition Regulations, will help Federal agencies determine whether or not a technology product or system is accessible.

Under a contract awarded to a private firm in September, the Board is developing training modules and technical assistance materials on the final standards and section 508. Some of these materials are now available on this site.

Rulemaking History: