Posted by Laura Ruby
Director, Accessibility Policy Standards
Yesterday the White House announced that the government will renew its commitment to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which requires access to the federal government’s electronic and information technology for people with disabilities. The announcement was part of the celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which gives 43 million Americans with disabilities the promise of equal access to all the benefits and advantages of society.
Section 508 applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain or use electronic and information technology. Today’s announcement focused on ensuring better agency accountability and more responsibility for implementing Section 508 requirements, so that the benefits of information technology are made available to those with disabilities and to older people who often experience vision, hearing or dexterity impairments as they age.
Accessible technology enables people with disabilities to access services and pursue education and employment in today’s competitive and connected digital workplace. It also helps business leaders and governments empower and retain top employees and aging workers. The United States has been a leader on accessibility, and many other countries look to Section 508 as a model. The law helps ensure a more vibrant and competitive technology industry, as the government’s commitment to adopt the most accessible technology products creates a powerful incentive for investment in accessibility improvements. To continue sending the right signals to industry, however, the government must set clear goals and guidelines, without favoring one technology or business framework over another. Also, agency staff who carry out the policy need sufficient training in how to use, evaluate and maintain accessible technology.
Microsoft has long been committed to accessibility in our products and services. Our approach involves a steady focus on meeting customer needs and maintaining customer choice, communicating openly about our development processes and products, and innovating through collaboration with governments, researchers, standards-setting organizations, companies and user communities around the globe.
An example of our principles at work is the recently released Office 2010 Accessibility Checkers for Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Their development was very much influenced by input from our U.S. government customers and their need for tools to help them implement 508 requirements.
We applaud the White House for its announcement today and pledge to continue working with federal agencies so that citizens with disabilities can benefit from the promise of access to technology.