Section 508 to roll out new tools, refresh website to assist acquisition officials

GSA headquarters. (18F photo)

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Officials from the Section 508 Accessibility Program say that too few agencies are including the proper requirements in their new IT solicitations, so the office — which ensures that federal technology is accessible to people with disabilities — is working on new tools that will help ensure procurement requests are specific enough.

John Sullivan, program director for the General Services Administration office, said this week that his team has been scanning procurement requests appearing on FedBizOpps to see if agencies are providing enough detail about what they need in the IT products they are buying. In many cases, there isn’t any such language at all.

“We have a tool that has been going out and looking at [whether] the requirements are being specified in the contract — not even asking are the right ones specified, but are there any requirements,” he said Tuesday during a webinar hosted by the Americans with Disabilities Act National Network. “Across the federal government, the rate is low, very low. So that is why we are here today, to say that across the board we have got to get these requirements into solicitations, and we need to see what the roadblocks are and the hurdles to doing so.”

Section 508 of the Workforce Rehabilitation Act requires that IT and communications technology bought by the federal government be accessible to users with disabilities.

Sullivan added that the Section 508 website would be relaunched on June 4 and will soon include new reference tools and information for agencies to use. Among the features included in the website refresh are estimates of the accessibility-requirements language needed for various commercial-off-the-shelf IT products that agencies can “grab” and apply it to their solicitations for more compliance ease.

To continue to ensure that agencies meet those standards, the Section 508 office has already rolled out its Accessibility Requirements Tool (ART).

“What ART does is it walks you through everything as an almost TurboTax-esque piece of software,” Sullivan said. “It asks you a series of questions and, as you are answering yes and no to these questions, it’s building your requirements for you.”

The combination of the ART tool and the Revised 508 Standards Applicability Checklist released in April should provide agencies with more guidance on how to ensure that IT products are accessibility complaint, Sullivan said.

But the onus remains on agencies to both communicate those requirements to contractors and verify they are complying with them.

“The bottom line is we want to be accessible,” he said. “Accessibility is part of how the government does business. It’s the baked-in rather than built-on approach to accessibility. It’s something you think about and it becomes the ethos of how you do your business.”

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FedBizOpps, General Services Administration (GSA), John Sullivan, Section 508, workforce
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