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DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

CR TUESDAY, APRIL 18, 2000(202) 514-2007 WWW.USDOJ.GOV TDD   (202) 514-1888

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT ANNOUNCES FINDINGS OF SURVEY OF ACCESSIBILITY OF FEDERAL GOVERNMENT INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY

WASHINGTON, D.C.-- Today, Attorney General Janet Reno announced the release of the Department of Justice's first report under section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, "Information Technology and People with Disabilities: The Current State of Federal Accessibility." The Attorney General made this announcement at FOSE, an exposition of information technology aimed at federal agencies, at which she presented a keynote address. Ms. Reno addressed the federal government's efforts to make its information technology accessible to people with disabilities.

"Making technology accessible to people with disabilities is the right thing to do," stated Ms. Reno. "It is not difficult and it does not have to be expensive. But technology has changed so rapidly that accessibility has often been an afterthought, if thought about at all. Modifying existing technology to be accessible is much more difficult, much more expensive, than designing technology right in the first place. Accessible design is good design," she added.

THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE'S REPORT

When amending section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act in 1998, Congress required each federal agency to evaluate the extent to which its information technology is accessible to people with disabilities and to report the results of those evaluations to the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice, in turn, analyzed those evaluations to give a comprehensive picture of the level of accessibility of federal information technology to people with disabilities.

Under the Department's direction, agencies examined the procurement policies and procedures, along with common types of information technology including: software, Web pages, information kiosks and other "information transaction machines," electronic office equipment such as copiers, fax machines, and printers, and telecommunications products and systems.

The Department of Justice found that while some information technology used by federal agencies is accessible, simple steps can increase the extent to which federal information technology is usable by people with disabilities. Many of the Department's recommendations are designed to improve communications among agencies to help the government work more efficiently.

The Department of Justice's Report, like the agency self-evaluations, was issued pursuant to statutory directive under a 1998 amendment to section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Starting in August 2001, the Department will issue reports regarding the accessibility to persons with disabilities of federal information technology every two years to the President and Congress. These future reports will also track the resolution of complaints filed against agencies.

THE LAW

Section 508 requires federal agencies to procure, develop, maintain, and use electronic and information technology that is accessible to people with disabilities, unless it would be an undue burden to do so. It does not directly regulate the private sector.

The law covers all types of electronic and information technology in the Federal sector and is not limited to assistive technologies used by people with disabilities. It applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use such technology. Federal agencies must ensure that this technology is accessible to employees and the public to the
extent it does not pose an "undue burden." National security systems are exempt.

Built-in assistive technology is not required where it is not needed. For example, workstations of nondisabled employees are not required to be equipped with Braille displays and printers. On the other hand, networked computer systems, hardware, and software, should be compatible with Braille systems and printers, so that if an employee needs them, he can use the same shared systems that other employees use.

Section 508 does not require federal contractors to make their own Internet sites accessible to people with disabilities, but it does require federal agencies' Internet sites to be accessible, even when they are designed and maintained by a private contractor.

Beginning on August 7, 2000, Federal employees and members of the public with disabilities may file administrative complaints or suit in federal district court for alleged violations of section 508.

PROPOSED ACCESSIBILITY STANDARDS

The law directs the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board), an independent federal agency, to develop access standards for this technology. The standards, once final, will become part of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), which is the main procurement regulation for federal agencies.

On March 31, 2000, the Access Board published proposed standards to implement section 508. The proposed standards define "electronic and information technology" (EIT) which will be subject to section 508 and set forth minimum specifications for accessibility of EIT for people with disabilities. These proposed standards are available on the Access Board's Internet site (www.access-board.gov). The public comment period closes on May 30, 2000.

The Department of Justice's Report and additional information is available on the Department's section 508 home page.

 

 

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