Government Info Tech Rules for Disabled Effective Tomorrow
New regulations directing all new information technology used and put forth by the federal government to be accessible to people with disabilities are scheduled take effect tomorrow, although many federal agencies may not be in compliance immediately, the Wall Street Journal reports (Bridis/Simpson, Wall Street Journal, 6/20). In 1998, President Bill Clinton signed legislation that adjusted the 1973 Rehabilitation Act to require that new federal information technology be "accessible to the disabled." Under the new rules, drafted by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, an independent federal agency also called the Access Board, any new information systems or Web sites created by government agencies for their employees or for the public must comply with certain standards. The new standards require, for example, that audio content contain captions for the deaf and that any visual elements, such as charts and graphs, include text that can be read aloud by screen-reading software for the blind. The regulations do not require the government to modify existing software or Web sites to meet the regulations, but several agencies said that they are trying to bring them into compliance as well (White, Washington Post, 6/20). Although the law does not require businesses to manufacture products meeting the new requirements, the government is barred from purchasing products that do not. Agencies that fail to comply with the rules can be sued by their employees or outside users who cannot access information. The new rules are expected to add about $1 billion each year to the government's annual technology expenditure of $38 billion (Wall Street Journal, 6/20). David Capozzi of the Access Board said that many agencies "may not find software that meets all requirements right away," but should try to purchase products that "best mee[t] the provisions."
President Bush said that the new regulations "would make the government a 'better employer'" for its 120,000 disabled workers and would increase access to government information for disabled consumers (Washington Post, 6/20). However, a new report by the National Council on Disability "faults" the Bush administration for "failing to accommodate disabled users of technology." The council said that the government has "no general policy favoring or supporting accessibility" through the Internet and other information technologies. The organization is asking Bush to appoint a national commission and hold a White House summit to address the government's efforts to become more accessible to those with disabilities (Wall Street Journal, 6/20).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.