Accessibility Standards Get a Much-Needed Refresh

by Lisa Lindgren

posted on 03-14-2017

Posted by Andrew Kirkpatrick, Group Product Manager for Standards & Accessibility

The last time the federal government updated its accessibility standards for electronic and information technology “Shrek” was dominating the U.S. box office and the Supreme Court was ruling on “hanging chads” in the Florida recount 16 years ago. To keep up with evolving technology, the United States Access Board started working with consumer groups, the disabled community, and technology companies like Adobe in 2006 to update Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to ensure the federal government’s electronic and information technology is accessible to people with disabilities.

After almost a decade of work, the board released its “Section 508 refresh” on January 18. In the updated rule, the board addresses improved access for numerous disabilities and takes a significant step towards greater accessibility. The most important element of the refresh is the adoption of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 put forward by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). This is critical because it harmonizes the US government’s rules with the rest of the world, making it easier for American businesses like Adobe to develop products that can be used around the globe.

Adobe commends the U.S. Access Board for not going their own way and developing new standards. For many years, Adobe participated in the development of accessibility guidelines, including the WCAG 2.0 recommendations. We believe that harmonizing standards across the globe is the key to expanding accessible content for everyone. Given the fast pace of technology, accessibility regulations need to be consistent.

While the refresh only pertains to federal agencies, its impact will be felt in state and local governments as well because adopting the WCAG 2.0 standard signals to state and local entities that they should adopt the same rules. Universities and many other institutions are expected to follow the government’s lead and adopt similar standards in the years to come, which is great news and should speed up adoption.

The new rule also applies WCAG 2.0 standards to electronic documents, which many Adobe products already meet. Adobe has taken many steps to make our products accessible for all users, including adding robust capabilities to many Document Cloud products. Adobe Acrobat DC and Adobe Reader DC support assistive technologies and allow users to create, edit, and read accessible PDF documents.

Agencies now have a year to reach compliance. Agencies have traditionally struggled with Section 508 compliance in the past by not providing adequate staff resources and not providing adequate training. As agencies start to review the rules and determine what steps they need to take, Adobe wants to partner with them to find solutions. Adobe can help agencies adopt software solutions that will meet accessibility standards and produce accessible content. Compliance information is provided for most Adobe products that detail how products comply with existing regulation.

The next big step comes in July when an update to the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) will provide additional guidance. The Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council (FAR Council) and federal agencies will incorporate the updated standards into their acquisition regulations and procurement policies. Once this occurs agencies will be able to work with vendors to determine what the best software solutions are for their needs.

Adobe has made it a mission to develop digital tools that are accessible for all users. We work to develop new accessibility features in our products and programs while encouraging developers to produce rich, engaging content that is also accessible. As a global leader in the software industry, we believe that different abilities should never limit opportunities. We will continue to develop software solutions that can be used by as many people as possible, while working with governments around the world to ensure that people of all abilities are able to access and obtain the government services they need.