New Updates to Rehabilitation Act Standards Proposed

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Written by: Sam Joehl

Last week was an exciting week for the advancement of employment for people with disabilities within the federal government. On December 8, the United States Access Board released an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) updating the draft ICT Standards and Guidelines which apply to federal agencies under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and to telecommunications manufacturers under Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The notice and proposed text are available for review and comment by the public until March 7, 2012. Comments may be submitted using regulations.gov or by E-mail to ictrule@access-board.gov. Comments should be identified using docket number 2011-17 or RIN 3014-AA37. These updates come 11 years following the original Section 508 standards and 13 years since the original Section 255 standards. In March 2010, the Access Board published the first ANPRM containing draft proposed updates to the standards since they were originally released. Since that time, the Board held two public hearings and received 384 comments regarding the 2010 ANPRM. The 2011 ANPRM reflects changes to the draft standards based on comments received. Some of the changes between the 2010 and 2011 proposed standards include:

  • The original 2010 ANPRM included a proposal to amend the ADA Accessibility Guidelines to include coverage of self-service kiosks. This proposal has been removed from this ANPRM.
  • The new standards were consolidated down from ten to six chapters by consolidating and streamlining provisions, advisory techniques and scoping requirements.
  • The relationship between the technical provisions and functional performance criteria has been redefined so that agencies must now look to the functional performance criteria even if the technical provisions have been met. This eliminates the greater weight that was given to the technical provisions in the 2010 ANPRM. The FPC are still used to evaluate equivalent facilitation as was proposed in the 2010 ANPRM.
  • The functional performance criterion for limited vision has been changed from visual acuity requirements to requiring the ability of ICT to magnify, reduce the field of vision, and adjust contrast.
  • The scope of covered electronic content has been limited from official agency communications to nine discrete categories.
  • Specific requirements for ICT with closed functionality have been provided.
  • The exceptions for ICT located in spaces frequented by maintenance personnel and ICT purchased incidental to a contract have been restored.
  • WCAG 2.0 success criteria have been incorporated by reference rather than included in the document.
  • Factors used as the basis for undue burden determinations have been added.

On December 9, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to update affirmative action requirements established in Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act obligating federal contractors and sub-contractors to provide equal employment opportunities for qualified individuals with disabilities. The proposed regulations detail specific actions contractors must take in the areas of employment, training, record-keeping and policy dissemination similar to existing affirmative action requirements already in place to promote workplace equality for women and minorities. The new requirements include setting a hiring goal for contractors and sub-contractors to employ 7 percent of their workforce as people with disabilities, enhancing data collection and record-keeping requirements – including reasonable accommodation requests, ensuring annual self-reviews of recruitment and outreach efforts, and listing job openings. The NPRM is available for public review and comment until February 7, 2012. Comments may be submitted via regulations.gov or by mailing them to Debra, Carr, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, U.S. Department of Labor, Room C-3325, 200 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington D.C. 20210. Comments should reference RIN number 1250-AA02.

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