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Electronic and IT Accessibility Policy

U.S. Department of Commerce
Office of the Chief Information Officer

Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Policy

Department of Commerce (DOC) Electronic and Information Technology (EIT) Accessibility Policy: All DOC operating units shall comply with the EIT accessibility standards for individuals with disabilities published by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) on December 21, 2000, when procuring, developing, maintaining, or using EIT. If complying with these standards would constitute an undue burden, then requests for relief from the standards must be submitted to the DOC Chief Information Officer (CIO).

Definition of EIT Accessibility

Covered EIT Resources

Policy Scope

Section 508 key dates

Other IT policy areas affected by EIT accessibility

Regulatory requirements regarding EIT accessibility

Other regulations affecting EIT accessibility

Section 508 distinctions from other policies affecting EIT Accessibility

Approval for exceptions to the Section 508 standards

Department’s role regarding EIT accessibility

Department’s EIT Accessibility Coordinator

Operating unit compliance measures for DOC EIT accessibility policy

Undue Burden determination request process at the DOC level

Undue Burden determination request process at the operating unit level

Additional information about EIT accessibility

Contact for EIT policy

Definition of EIT accessibility

Revised Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. § 794d) mandates that electronic and information technology (EIT) be accessible to individuals with disabilities in the Federal Government and to members of the public seeking information from the Federal Government. DOC EIT accessibility policy addresses the effort to ensure that individuals with disabilities who are either Commerce employees using Commerce EIT resources or members of the public seeking Commerce information or services have comparable access to these resources. Comparable access means that the individual with the disability has access to and use of information and data comparable to that of a person without a disability.

In general, an information technology system is accessible to people with disabilities if it can be used in a variety of ways that do not depend on a single sense or ability. For example, a system that provides output only in audio format would not be accessible to people with hearing impairments, and a system that requires mouse actions to navigate would not be accessible to people who cannot use a mouse because of a dexterity or visual impairment. Section 508 focuses on the overall accessibility of electronic and informationtechnology systems, not on providing accommodations at individual work sites. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act requires Federal agencies to provide reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities; it generally covers individual work sites but not overall technology systems. Even with an accessible system, individuals with disabilities may still need specific accessibility-related software or peripheral devices as an accommodation to be able to use it. For example, in order to use an accessible word-processing program, a person who is blind may need add-on software that reads text aloud; if the word-processing program could not be made compatible with a screen-reading program, it might not be accessible.

Covered EIT resources

Electronic and information technology (EIT) includes IT as defined in the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 and electronic equipment such as information kiosks, FAX machines, copiers, pagers, and telephones. This policy addresses the acquisition, development, maintenance, or use of application software, Web sites, and telecommunications (both data and voice). This policy covers IT resources, as defined by the Clinger-Cohen Act, at the Department of Commerce. It does not address office equipment, e.g., copiers or FAX machines.

Policy scope

This policy applies to all Department of Commerce operating units, including the Office of the Secretary.

Section 508 key dates

The final Section 508 Accessibility Standards were published by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers ComplianceBoard (Access Board) on December 21, 2000. The standards became enforceable six months after that date and revised Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act fully applied at that time. Section 508 is not retroactive; goods purchased, in-house developed applications, and IT applications developed under contract prior to June 21, 2001, are not subject to enforcement of the Section 508 standards. However, consistent with the legislation, after June 21, 2001, the DOC policy is to provide Section 508 compliant EIT for individuals with disabilities unless an undue burden can be documented whether the application is developed in-house or contracted out. If an undue burden is established, then an alternative means of access must be provided. The Section 508 Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) rule is in force as of June 25, 2001. This rule states that all contracts awarded after June 25, 2001, must be Section 508 compliant, except indefinite-delivery indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contracts. For IDIQ contracts, the FAR rule is applicable to delivery orders or task orders issued on or after June 25, 2001.

Other IT policy areas affected by EIT accessibility

IT planning and budgeting. Resources to acquire assistive technologies, support services to contract for expertise to make software applications compliant and funding topurchase EIT hardware and software that are compliant must be included in operational IT plans.

Acquisition. When acquiring EIT, DOC operating units must comply with the Access Board accessibility EIT standards after June 21, 2001. The enforcement provisions of Section 508 take effect when the Federal Government procures EIT goods and services. Section 508 incorporates both administrative and legal enforcement mechanisms if non-compliant EIT is procured.

Workforce issues. Supervisors should do the following:

    • Ensure that the assistive technology needs of their employees with disabilities are met.

    • Direct that EIT systems be developed to meet the Section 508 standards (36 CFR Part 1194).

    • See that needs assessments for employees with disabilities are provided.

    • Be familiar with policy guidance on facilitating the provision of reasonable accommodation to employees with disabilities.

Regulatory requirements regarding EIT accessibility

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was amended in 1998 to require Federal agencies to ensure that any time the Government procures, develops, maintains, or uses electronic and information technology, it is accessible to persons with disabilities. The enforcement provisions of Section 508, i.e., administrative and court remedies, apply only when a Federal agency procures goods or services. Federal employees using EIT are covered by the provisions of Section 508 as well as members of the public seeking information from the government, unless exception to the accessibility standards applies or an undue burden can be documented. An undue burden is defined as a "significant difficulty or expense." The law is not retroactive; it is enforceable only for items/services procured after June 21, 2001.

Under Section 508's management provisions, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is to report to the President and the Congress on accessibility of Federal EIT every two years. Agencies are generally required, through a self-administered questionnaire, to assess their software applications, Internet sites, electronic equipment, and telecommunications capabilities for accessibility.

Other regulations affecting EIT accessibility

Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act - Section 501 of this act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in Federal employment and requires Federal agencies to establish affirmative action plans for the hiring, placement, and advancement of people with disabilities in Federal employment.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act - Section 504 prohibits discrimination based on disability in federally funded and federally conducted programs or activities in the United States, including employment programs.

Section 505 of the Rehabilitation Act - Section 505 establishes the enforcement procedures for Title V of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 505 (a) (1) provides that the procedures and rights set forth in Section 717 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 shall be available with respect to any complaint under Section 501. Section 505 (a)(2) provides that the remedies, rights, and procedures set forth in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 shall be available to any person alleging a violation of Section 504. Section 508 is also enforced through the procedures established in Section 505 (a)(2).

Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 - Section 255 requires manufacturers of telecommunications equipment and providers of telecommunications services to ensure that such equipment and services are accessible to persons with disabilities, if readily achievable. The Federal Communications Commission's Report and Order implementing Section 255 was released in September 1999. Individuals with disabilities should have access to telephones, cellular phones, pagers, call-waiting capabilities, and operator services.

Section 508 distinctions from other policies affecting EIT accessibility

Section 508 is technology-centered and focuses on whether mainstream EIT products meet the Access Board's Section 508 Standards, even if an agency has not identified employees or members of the public with disabilities who will be using the EIT.

The reasonable accommodation provisions of Section 504 are person-centered and focus on how a specific individual's disability should be accommodated in a particular setting.

See sample Section 504 versus Section 508 illustrations.

Exceptions to meeting the Section 508 technical standards

    • National Security systems.

    • EIT acquired by a contractor that is incidental to the contract.

    • The installation of specific accessibility software and devices is not required for Federal employees who do not have a disability

    • If an agency provides access to the public to information using EIT at a specific location, then the agency is not required to provide individuals with disabilities access at another location. For example, if an agency maintains an electronic catalogue of its holdings at a library, then that catalogue need only be accessible at the location of that library.

    • The Section 508 standards do not require that a fundamental alteration in the nature of a product or its components be imposed to make the product accessible. For example, requiring large screen displays for pocket-sized devices such as pagers would fundamentally alter the product.

    • Products located in spaces frequented only by service personnel for maintenance, repair, or occasional monitoring of equipment are not required to comply with the Section 508 standards. For example, servers located in computer rooms are exempt.

    • If making the EIT resource comply with the Section 508 standards would constitute an undue burden.

Approval for exceptions to the Section 508 standards

The DOC Chief Information Officer (CIO) will approve exceptions for those acquisitions that are submitted to the Office of the CIO according to the acquisition thresholds set forth in the IT Acquisition Initiatives policy. For acquisitions under the Departmental thresholds, the operating unit CIOs will approve these exceptions to the Section 508 standards.

Department’s role regarding EIT accessibility

The Department appoints an EIT Accessibility Coordinator who disseminates information on EIT accessibility matters to the operating units and facilitates cooperation among them on accessibility issues. The EIT Accessibility Coordinator's duties include the following:

    • Develop and maintain the DOC EIT accessibility policy

    • Schedule and lead EIT Accessibility Coordinator meetings.

    • Participate in employee groups dealing with accessibility issues.

    • Participate in Government-wide accessibility activities.

    • Administer the Department of Justice biennial survey within the Department.

    • Ensure that employees with disabilities have the appropriate assistive technologies by directing them to (and providing transportation as necessary) to the various government centers that perform assistive technology needs assessments for individuals with disabilities or demonstrate the capabilities of assistive technology.

    • Provide sources for assistance for assessing and complying with EIT accessibility standards.

    • Retain documentation on undue burden determinations.

Department's EIT Accessibility Coordinator

Jennifer Jessup can be reached at (202) 482-0336 or jjessup@doc.gov.

Operating unit compliance measures for Commerce EIT accessibility policy

    • Appoint an operating unit EIT Accessibility Coordinator.

    • Ensure that the operating unit EIT Accessibility Coordinator attends Departmental IT Accessibility Coordinator meetings.

    • Administer the Department of Justice biennial survey within the operating unit and report results to the Department's EIT Accessibility Coordinator.

    • Ensure that employees with disabilities have the appropriate assistive technologies by directing them to and providing transportation as necessary to the various government facilities that perform assistive technology needs assessments for individuals with disabilities or demonstrate the capabilities of assistive technology.

    • Make adequate resources available to acquire the specific assistive technologies required for their employees with disabilities.

    • Comply with the Access Board's Section 508 standards (36 CFR Part 1194) for procuring, developing, maintaining, and using EIT that will be accessed by both employees and members of the public. All procurements after June 21, 2001, must comply with the Section 508 standards unless an exception applies or an undue burden can be documented.

    • Test for Section 508 compliance with the Access Board's standards for software applications and Web applications. See DOC Web Masters Best Practice 3 for Web testing help.

    • Adhere to the DOC Web Masters Web Accessibility Standard 6.

    • Include a Section 508 compliance requirement in all EIT statements of work. See FAR Section 508 rule.

    • Include a Section H in Part II of the OMB Circular A-11, Exhibit addressing Section 508 for all acquisitions submitted to the Office of the CIO. See the IT Acquisition Initiatives policy for IT acquisition operating unit thresholds for OCIO submission. This section should address whether the proposed IT acquisition will be compliant, qualifies for an exception, or will be addressed in a request for an undue burden determination.

    • Apply for an undue burden determination, if necessary, and establish alternative methods for access.

    • Document and retain all undue burden determinations made by the operating unit CIO.

Undue Burden Determination request process at the Department level

For operating unit systems requiring Department acquisition approval and for which it has been deemed necessary to seek an undue burden determination, this request must accompany the acquisition initiative documentation. The Chief Information Officer (CIO) of the operating unit, with the concurrence of the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of the operating unit, must submit the undue burden request to the DOC CIO. At the discretion of the DOC CIO, these systems will be reviewed either by the DOC CIO or by the Commerce Information Technology Review Board (CITRB). In either case, the operating unit should include the following in their DOC submission:

    • Briefly describe the proposed system development or infrastructure improvement.

    • Describe the market research done to assess availability of Section 508-compatible products, if applicable.

    • Identify the specific Section 508 Access Board standard(s) that cannot be met.

    • Quantify the effort in time and money to make the proposed system/resource compliant with the Section 508 standards.

    • Describe the alternative method that will be employed so that the employee or user with disabilities can access the system and/or obtain information. Examples of alternative methods are voice, FAX, relay service TTY, Internet posting, captioning, text-to-speech synthesis, and audio description.

    • Include a review date when the undue burden decision will be reassessed.

    • Provide the cost of the alternative method and its proposed implementation date.

The Commerce Information Technology Review Board (CITRB), which acts as an advisor to the Chief Information Officer (CIO), will make a recommendation to the CIO to approve or disapprove the undue burden request for those acquisitions that it reviews. The DOC CIO will then sign a determination of an undue burden for the system under consideration by the CITRB and for those undue burden requests submitted to DOC but not reviewed by the CITRB. The Department's EIT Accessibility Coordinator will keep records of all undue burden determination decisions.

Undue Burden Determination request process at the operating unit level

For procurement of systems under the DOC acquisition threshold, the program official should prepare a request to the operating unit CIO including the same information required in the Departmental process. The operating unit EIT Accessibility Coordinator should serve as a resource to the program official in preparing the request for an undue burden determination. The operating unit CIO will make the determination, maintain the undue burden documentation, and also send a copy to the Department EIT Accessibility Coordinator.

Additional information about EIT accessibility

The Office of the CIO's IT Accessibility Web site provides additional information as does the Federal Accessibility Initiative site. Links that include government, industry, and research institutions expert in accessibility issues are provided by the Access Board.

Contact for EIT policy

Contact Jennifer Jessup, who can be reached at (202) 482-0336 or jjessup@doc.gov.

IT Accessibility Centers

Department of Defense, Computer/Electronic Program Technology Evaluation Center (CAPTEC)
http://www.tricare.osd.mil/cap/

5111 Leesburg Pike
Suite 810
Falls Church, VA 22041
Hours of Operation: M-F, 9-3; call ahead for escort
Phone: 703-693-5160; TTY: 703-693-6189; FAX: 703-681-9075

USDA Target Center
http://www.dm.usda.gov/oo/target

1400 Independence Ave.
Room 1006-S
Washington, D.C.
Phone: 202-720-2600; TTY: 202-720-2600

Examples of Section 504 versus Section 508 distinctions

Sample Situation 1: An agency upgrades its e-mail system after June 21, 2001; the prior version of the software was accessible to screen reader software, but the new one is not.

A Section 504 solution would be to supply a person to read e-mail messages to a blind individual. This represents a person-centric accommodation that is not comparable access.

For a Section 508 solution, the agency must make the e-mail system accessible to screen reader software. This represents a technology-based comparable access solution.

Sample Situation 2: An agency upgrades its video conferencing system after June 21, 2001. The prior equipment did not provide the capability to decode and display captioning for audio material.

504 solution: The video conferencing system is not displaying the captioning. An interpreter is provided to sign the audio material for a deaf scientist. This is a person-centric reasonable accommodation.

508 solution: The video conferencing system must be equipped with the decoder to display the captioning of the audio material. The deaf scientist is reading the captioning. This represents a technology-based access solution.

Supersedes policy dated: none

Approved by: Thomas Pyke, Chief Information Officer, June 8, 2001

Revision status: Revised October 26, 2011