Section 508 Updates Should Promote Harmonization of Accessibility Standards

Posted by Andrew Kirkpatrick, Group Product Manager, Accessibility and Standards

Adobe has made it a priority to develop digital tools that are world class and support accessibility for people with disabilities. We work to provide accessibility features in our products and programs while encouraging developers to produce rich, engaging content that is accessible. As a global leader in the software industry, we take this responsibility very seriously because all people should be able to take advantage of digital technology – regardless of ability.

Adobe has taken a number of steps to make its products engaging for all users. Last year, Adobe released Acrobat DC and Reader DC with some significant new accessibility features, including assistive technology for reading PDF content on Mac OS X as well as improvements in the existing Windows support. For the first time, Mac users were able to use VoiceOver to create, edit and read accessible PDF documents.

Establishing and promoting accessibility standards is another important area in which we strive to set a forward-thinking example. For many years, Adobe has participated in the development of national policies and global accessibility standards efforts, including co-chairing the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) working group. Despite these efforts, there is still a great deal more to be done when it comes to establishing universal accessibility standards.

The U.S. federal government is in the process of updating its accessibility standards outlined in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which aims to ensure that all of the federal government’s electronic and information technology is accessible to people with disabilities. To keep pace with evolving technology, Adobe expects that the United States Access Board will update its standards so that it is in line with the WCAG 2.0 guidelines. Such an update will help vendors ensure that all of their products meet the needs of as diverse a group of users as possible by adopting common criteria for developers as they build the next generation of technology. With WCAG 2.0 forming the basis of policies around the world – including, we expect, in the European Union’s proposed Directive on the Web Accessibility of Public Sector websites – it makes sense for the United States to follow suit and use WCAG 2.0 as the foundation of any legislative or administrative updates in the future.

An update is badly needed because many of the standards are no longer applicable to modern technology. The last time the standards were updated was in 2001 – almost seven years before the first iPhone. Since then, technology and the public’s expectations for efficient digital experiences have evolved greatly. Making matters more urgent, a recent surge of lawsuits against companies accused of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act has left much discretion up to the courts. Rather than leaving it to the courts to interpret the rules, greater guidance should be provided to companies.

When it comes to crafting effective accessibility standards, the goal is to empower and enable users with disabilities around the world and provide consensus standards for regulators to reference in new policies. Harmonizing accessibility standards across the globe is the key to maintaining a level playing field for all. Harmonization minimizes market confusion and allows companies with Global operations such as Adobe to deliver solutions which effectively address accessibility across markets.

At Adobe, we believe that different abilities should never limit opportunities. We will continue to create software solutions that can be used by as broad and diverse a range of people as possible, while working globally to establish accessibility policies adapted to our constantly changing world.