If you’re a federal CIO, you’ve suddenly got a lot of work to do.

The Office of Management and Budget issued a new strategy on January 24 that is intended to increase the accessibility of information technology for the disabled within federal agencies and on public-facing websites. It calls for greater levels of assessment and reporting, because compliance with the existing Section 508 requirements is so poor.

“Among the deliverables called for by OMB are for all agency chief information officers to appoint by March 25 a Section 508 coordinator and for CIOs and chief acquisition officers to by May 24 develop a plan and a schedule for completing a baseline assessment of Section 508 compliance on their websites and in IT procurement,” writes David Perara in Fierce Government. “The results of those assessments are due in December.”

OMB noted that some 8 million Americans have vision difficulties, while another 8 million have hearing difficulties, and that this is likely to increase as the population ages.  The OMB strategy is the culmination of a couple of years’ worth of meetings with stakeholders.

A 2011 study of federal agency website home pages found that more than 90 percent of webpages had some violation of accessibility guidelines, with a total sample average of 2.27 violations per webpage. Most of the issues were situations such as unlabeled images, mislabeled forms or tables, missing skip navigation links, and no keyboard equivalents for mouse-over actions.

The General Services Administration is also tasked with making its website www.section508.gov more of a one-stop shop for information and best practices. There are also examples of how to design for people with disabilities.

Aspects of compliance include ensuring that employees have received training in how to make Word documents and PDFs more accessible. In addition, CIOs need to ensure during the procurement process that vendors are section 508 compliant, including vendors of document authoring tools. Appendix C of the OMB strategy is a comprehensive list of Section 508 resources, including the Top Ten Things CIOs Should Know About Accessibility – such as that CIOs should think of accessibility the way they do about security, and include it at the design phase rather than “pouring Section 508 at the end and hoping some leaks in at the right places,” as Jonni Burnham, Section 508 coordinator at the Transportation Department, put it.

Of course, this isn’t always easy; as at least one participant pointed out during one of the stakeholder sessions, the voting component of the discussion was itself not Section 508-compatible. “How on Earth can we be having an online dialogue about improving implementation of Section 508 using a platform that, itself, is not compliant with Section 508? “

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