Podcast: Why meeting new federal mandates for digital accessibility makes good business sense

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New government mandates issued at the beginning of this year require federal agencies — and the software and technology providers that support them — to meet expanded online accessibility standards.

The new “Section 508” rules, which took effect January 18, are primarily aimed at aiding seeing- and hearing-impaired users of federal websites. But they also call for agencies and technology providers to update their software for a wide range of electronic documents used for official government business, such as notifications, administrative claims, notices of benefits, employment opportunities, forms, training materials and much more.

A new FedScoop podcast interview with Deque Systems CEO and Founder Preety Kumar explores why organizations need to pay attention to the new mandates, what challenges developers are likely to face meeting them and how to meet the new standards cost effectively.

“Any technology the federal government use, buys or procures must be ‘508-refresh’ compliant,” under the new requirements, Kumar says. “So, any software vendors that sell anything to the federal government — whether it’s an on-premises software solution or an SaaS solution — will have to update their software to meet this new standard,” she noted. It will also impact system integrators as well as every federal agency. “There will be a ripple effect on state and local governments and education institutions as well.”

Based on an assessment Deque Systems conducted on the most popular federal websites, Kumar estimates there are roughly three times the number of requirements under the new standards compared to the previous set of requirements. She estimates that in terms of remediation, agencies and developers “can expect to do at least twice as much work than they had been doing in their current efforts.”

Among other recommendations, she urges agencies that are currently undergoing digital transformation initiatives to “make sure your developers are building (the standards) in rather than retrofitting (them) later.” She also stresses the importance of following a “shift-left” philosophy by introducing accessibility testing into earlier stages of the development process.

Kumar noted that Deque’s open source accessibility testing tool, aXe, that provides developers a rules engine for accessibility standards, has become a de facto standard. Deque also offers a range of automation and other tools that can significantly reduce the time and expense involved in ensuring federal websites and digital documents meet the new standards. They include the guided test tool WorldSpace Assure, the compliance audit software WorldSpace Comply and the development tool  WorldSpace Attest.

Kumar argues that delaying efforts to meet the new requirements “is actually a lost opportunity. Why would you want to exclude the largest minority in the U.S. from being able to participate? And that’s what you would be doing by not considering these requirements,” she says.

Learn more about accessibility assessments, accessibility fixes, accessibility training and “Digital Accessibility Compliance.”

This article and podcast were written and produced by FedScoop for, and sponsored by, Deque Systems.

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Deque Systems, Digital Transformation, Preety Kumar, Section 508, Sponsored Content