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Welcome to NetCentric’s Accessibility Newsletter! From now on, each month, we plan to provide you, our valued customers and subscribers, with the latest industry news and highlights. We’ll also keep you up to date about upcoming events, opportunities, and CommonLook product developments that will be of interest to you. Invite friends and colleagues that would also like to be in-the-know about all things accessibility-related, by sharing this link to subscribe.
We also welcome your suggestions for upcoming topics and would like to know what you think of NetCentric’s Accessibility Newsletter.
We Hope You Enjoy!
May Deadline Looms for Final Input on Proposed Section 508 Rule
May 2015 is an important month for document and web accessibility in the United States. May 28 is the deadline for submitting comments to the United States Access Board regarding the proposed rule for updating the existing Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards under section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This is more popularly known as the Section 508 Standard.
What Changes are in Store?
Broad Application of WCAG 2.0
The proposed rule would incorporate, by reference, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, a voluntary consensus standard developed by ICT industry representatives and other experts. It would also require WCAG 2.0 Success Criteria to be applied, not only to Web content, but also to non-Web documents and software. The proposal also references ISO 14289-1 (PDF/UA-1) for PDF documents.
The proposed guidelines would also require documentation in electronic formats—including Web-based self-service support and electronic documents—to conform to all Level A and AA Success Criteria in WCAG 2.0 or ISO 14289-1 (PDF/UA-1). This proposal for accessible electronic support documentation is derived from the existing guidelines, but would newly require compliance with WCAG 2.0 or PDF/UA-1.
Delineation of Electronic Content
The proposed rule would also specify which types of electronic content that communicates official agency business would have to be accessible. The existing standards require federal agencies to make information and data accessible but do not delineate clearly what information and data must be accessible; as a result, document accessibility has been inconsistent across federal agencies.
Covered electronic content would, under the proposed rule, include two discrete groups of content.
First, the Board proposes that all public-facing content—which encompasses electronic information and data made available by agencies to members of the general public—must satisfy applicable accessibility requirements in the proposed rule (i.e., WCAG 2.0 Level A and Level AA Success Criteria or PDF/UA-1). This would include, for example, agency Web sites (and documents posted thereon), blog posts, and social media sites.
Coverage of this broad category of agency-sponsored content is important because persons with disabilities should have equal access to electronic information and data made available to the public generally. This is an essential right established by the Rehabilitation Act.
Second, with respect to electronic content that is not public facing, the Board aims to limit the scope of covered content to eight discrete categories of agency official communications that are most likely to affect a significant number of federal employees or the general public. An agency’s non-public facing electronic content would be required to meet the accessibility requirements in the proposed rule (i.e., WCAG 2.0 Level A and Level AA Success Criteria or PDF/UA-1) when such content (a) constitutes agency official business, and (b) falls within one or more of eight categories of communication:
- An emergency notification;
- An initial or final decision adjudicating an administrative claim or proceeding;
- An internal or external program or policy announcement;
- A notice of benefits, program eligibility, employment opportunity, or personnel action;
- A formal acknowledgement or receipt;
- A questionnaire or survey;
- A template or form; or
- Educational or training materials.
Coverage would extend to all forms of content constituting official communications by agencies, including Web pages, postings on social media, emails, and electronic documents.
Expanded Interoperability Requirements
The current standards require ICT to be compatible with assistive technology—that is, hardware or software that increases or maintains functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities (e.g., screen magnifiers or refreshable braille displays). But, because this requirement has proved ambiguous to enforce, the proposed rule now specifies how operating systems, software development toolkits, and software applications (Apps) should interact with assistive technology.
Requirement for RTT Functionality
The proposed standards would also require real-time text (RTT) functionality wherever an ICT product provides real-time, two-way voice communication. RTT is defined in the proposed rule as text that is transmitted character by character as it is being typed. An RTT recipient can read a message while it is being written, without waiting for the message to be completed; this is different from other message technologies such as “short messaging service,” or SMS, which transmit the entire message only after typing is complete. This requirement does not impact electronic documents but is included in the refresh as a recognition of one of the innovations and changes that has taken place in the technology industry which can be beneficial to persons with disabilities.
RTT is important as an alternative to voice communications, especially for people with disabilities who have difficulty hearing or speaking. RTT allows a more natural, bi-directional flow of conversation to take place compared with the technology of instant messaging or mobile phone text messaging.
What’s the Timeline for Implementation?
Based upon the current series of events
- February 18, 2015 the United States Access Board published its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to revise and update, in a single document, both its standards for electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by federal agencies covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and its guidelines for telecommunications equipment and customer premises equipment covered by Section 255 of the Communications Act of 1934.
- February 27, 2015 the NPRM was published in the Federal Register (80 FR 10880).
- Hearings took place in San Diego and Washington, DC and a public webinar took place in March to review the proposal. Another hearing took place in April in Salt Lake City, Utah.
- May 28, 2015 deadline for submission of written comments on the proposed rule. Comments can be submitted by any one of the following methods:
o Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments. The Regulations.gov ID for this docket is ATBCB-2015-0002.
o Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Include docket number ATBCB-2015-0002 in the subject line of the message.
o Fax: 202-272-0081.
o Mail or Hand Delivery/Courier: Office of Technical and Information Services, Access Board, 1331 F Street NW., Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20004-1111.
All comments, including any personal information provided, will be posted without change to http://www.regulations.gov and be available for public viewing.
At some point after May 28, 2015 the Board will publish its final rule in the Federal Register after it has had the opportunity to review the public comments on the proposed rule. A final rule could conceivably be published as early as June assuming the disposition of the public comments is quickly completed.
When Does the New Rule Take Effect?
The current Section 508 Standards and Section 255 Guidelines will remain in effect until the ICT Refresh rulemaking is complete. In all likelihood, it will be at least a year until those institutions bound to the Section 508 provisions are legally required to comply with the new standard.
The Board is considering making the 508 Standards effective six months after publication of the final rule in the Federal Register, with one exception: federal procurement of ICT products or services. A six-month delay in the effective date of the Access Board’s final rule will provide federal agencies with an opportunity to more fully understand the updated 508 Standards. By making the revised 508 Standards effective six months after publication in the Federal Register, they would go into effect at the same time as the FAR Council revisions to the Federal Acquisition Regulations.
With respect to federal ICT contracts, the Board proposes deferring to the FAR Council for establishment of the date on which the revised 508 Standards apply to new ICT-related contracts awarded after publication of the Council’s final rule, as well as existing ICT contracts with award dates that precede that final rule.
With CommonLook, You’re Ready for the Refresh Today
With NetCentric Technologies, you won’t have to wait to produce documents that comply with the new standards. CommonLook PDF Global Access allows you to simultaneously comply with both the current Section 508 Standards and the proposed rules today. Only CommonLook PDF Global Access allows users to verify and remediate PDF documents against today’s Section 508 standard, and the two standards that are referenced in the ICT Refresh: PDF/UA and WCAG 2.0. Preparing documents in accordance with the refresh will not invalidate their ability to comply with today’s standards. In fact, according to the Access Board, the WCAG 2.0 standard (or PDF/UA for that matter) is a more explicit standard than the existing Section 508 standard.
There are 38 Level A and AA WCAG 2.0 Success Criteria. Of these, 22 are phrased differently but are equivalent in substance to current 508 requirements. Content that meets the current 508 requirements would not have to be changed to meet the corresponding success criteria. Sixteen success criteria are new and content that meets the current 508 requirements might not meet these success criteria.
Where a WCAG 2.0 success criterion is new and does not correspond to a provision in the existing 508 standards, it addresses a deficiency with the existing 508 Standards as identified by the developers of WCAG. The WCAG 2.0 compliance testing mechanism in CommonLook PDF Global Access addresses the accessibility gaps between the old and new standards. What does this mean for users? There’s no need to wait in order to be “Ready for the Refresh Today.”
Guelph, Ontario, Canada
May 26-27, 2015
Join our weekly webinars that explore leading tools and approaches for managing PDF and Section 508 or WCAG 2.0 AA accessibility at the author, quality assurance and enterprise levels.
By now, it’s certainly no surprise that accessibility for persons with disabilities is an issue of major concern for users of information communications and technology (ICT). Many implementers have been aware of accessibility’s particular significance in certain vertical markets such as education, financial services, and the public sector.
Health care and accessibility are innately linked. There is a natural relationship between accessibility and health issues, as a significant number of applicants and beneficiaries for health care also possess a disability as a result of their health issues. Permanent or temporary disability is frequently a symptom of illness, disease, or injury.
Because of this close relationship between health and accessibility, it should come as no surprise that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) places a high level of importance on the accessibility of electronic information for persons with disabilities. In addition to the operational standards which a Qualified Health Care Providers (QHP) must meet, the ACA goes to great lengths to specify technical requirements a QHP must satisfy when it comes to providing services that are accessible to persons with disabilities, are non-discriminatory, and are available to persons with Limited English Proficiency (LEP).
As it has done in previous annual letters to Issuers in the Federally Facilitated Marketplace (FFM), the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), in the Chapter entitled Consumer Support and Related Issues has a section devoted to what it calls Meaningful Access (In the 2015 Letter dated March 14, 2014 this is Chapter 6, Section 4, on page 44).
The Meaningful Access section describes the measures QHP issuers in the Federally Facilitated Marketplace (FFM) are encouraged to take to comply with the requirements that they ensure meaningful access by limited-English proficient (LEP) speakers and by individuals with disabilities.
QHP issuers must ensure access for individuals with disabilities, including through the provision of auxiliary aids and services. CMS notes that all web content or communications materials produced by the FFM and its contractors – including text, audio or video, will conform to applicable standards related to section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and, where applicable, the Americans with Disabilities Act and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. CMS expects that QHP issuers will ensure meaningful access to at least the following items which it designates as essential documents:
- Applications (including the single streamlined application);
- Consent, grievance, and complaint forms, and any documents requiring a signature;
- Correspondence containing information about eligibility and participation criteria;
- Notices pertaining to the denial, reduction, modification, or termination of services, benefits, non payment, and/or coverage;
- A plan’s explanation of benefits or similar claim processing information;
- QHP ratings information;
- Rebate notices; and
- Any other document that contains information that is critical for obtaining health insurance coverage or access to care through the QHP.
In short, any document a QHP may choose to issue electronically falls under the Meaningful Access requirement.
The annual CMS letter isn’t simply a friendly reminder of a QHP’s obligation to provide meaningful access. The Accessibility standards for a QHP are codified in Title 45 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) – “Exchange Establishment Standards and Other Related Standards Under the Affordable Care Act” in Chapter 155 Sections 205 and 230, and in Chapter 156 Section 250.
Furthermore, QHP issuers are reminded that meaningful access requirements spelled out in 45 CFR 155.205(c), 155.230(b), and 156.250, as well as the discrimination prohibitions at 45 CFR 156.200(e), are independent of other obligations QHPs may have. For example, QHP issuers that receive federal financial assistance are subject to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and section 1557 of the ACA (the civil rights provision of the Affordable Care Act). As a result, QHPs have separate responsibilities under the law not to discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age and disability, in providing access to their services.
While all this sounds intimidating, there’s no need to be overwhelmed by all of these rules, references, guidelines, citations, and acronyms.
NetCentric Technologies and its CommonLook brand of document accessibility products and services make it easy to produce content that complies with all of the accessibility requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Not only does NetCentric have the technical expertise for making documents compliant with the various accessibility regulations, we have extensive experience providing these services to numerous customers in the health care industry including regulatory agencies, health care deliverers, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and health insurance providers. Our CommonLook PDF Global Access has successfully been applied to every conceivable type of document, notice, and form with the result being an assurance that the content complies fully with all of the document accessibility requirements established by the government for compliance with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
University of Idaho
You’d be hard-pressed to find a college administrator who doesn’t support accessibility, at least in theory. But program implementation, not simply an expression of support, is the test that colleges and universities must pass. In academia, the term “accessibility” is a bit of a double-edged sword. While everyone is quick to agree on the benefits accessibility provides to the educational community, the term also brings to mind a number of high-profile lawsuits involving higher education institutions over the last few years and the trials and tribulations those institutions went through to correct the situations.
As a result, implementing accessibility is thought of much like a trip to the dentist’s office – it’s a necessity and in your best interest, but the experience is regarded as so uncomfortable, it’s often put off indefinitely. If one inaccessible coursework document is the equivalent of a single cavity, imagine being assigned the job of performing fillings for thousands. That’s one heck of a toothache.
Because it’s been so difficult to get the patient into the dentist’s chair, so to speak, a number of regulatory provisions have been enacted to encourage educational institutions to provide accessible instructional materials. These include the Americans with Disabilities Act requirement that higher education institutions ensure any digital platform being used for credit-bearing courses is accessible, as well the provisions of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act which forbids discrimination against persons with disabilities on the part of institutions and programs receiving Federal financial assistance. Even with such enforcement mechanisms in place, a fair amount of educational institutions manage to avoid taking care of their accessibility toothache.
Some But Not All
While there is still much progress to be made in the world of higher education, there are those institutions that have taken bold measures to tackle the accessibility initiative head-on, whose enlightened faculty are serving as pioneers and role models for their academic peers. One such trail-blazer can be found in a small town called Moscow – not the one in Russia, but the one in northern Idaho – which also happens to be the home of the University of Idaho.
Meet Shawn Wright.
Shawn Wright works for the Center on Disabilities and Human Development at the University of Idaho and oversees the web development of the Idaho Training Clearinghouse. The Idaho Training Clearinghouse (ITC) is funded by the Idaho State Department of Education Special Education Division and is designed to link school professionals and parents with special education training opportunities and resources across the state. As one might imagine, accessibility is a priority for this group. On a routine basis, the ITC provides a large assortment of accessible electronic documents, PowerPoint presentations, and PDF files to its constituents. “We are working hard to ensure that our documents meet the highest level of accessibility,” says Shawn.
Led by Shawn, the ITC has implemented several measures to address accessibility. “We made a decision this year to work with our newly designed Learning Management System and to begin an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) process that would check our syllabi, registration forms, PowerPoint, PDF handouts, and quizzes for accessibility,” Shawn says. Like other colleges and universities, UI was tasked with finding a vendor whose products would help the university meet ADA requirements. Their evaluation of vendors in the accessibility space led them to NetCentric Technologies and the CommonLook suite of tools. “We were familiar with remediation tools and software applications and we decided to test CommonLook and to participate in a training session to see if we could implement the software smoothly. The CommonLook software is so user friendly and after participating in a training session on the software, we decided to go with the product. We started with a class in Autism Supports and remediated and validated the coursework using CommonLook Office Pro and CommonLook PDF Global Access. We were delighted with the results.”
Putting Procedures into Practice
For many schools, the most daunting part of undertaking an accessibility initiative involves the challenge of implementing procedures and establishing a workflow that incorporates the tools into an efficient system for producing accessible content. For Shawn and other accessibility stakeholders at the ITC, it is currently a work in progress.
“That’s where we are at this point,” says Shawn. “We are introducing the software and discussing the workflow. This is a process that will take time but we understand the importance of making sure our work is accessible. We are hopeful that our constituents will jump on board and we hope to provide introductory training and demonstrations for our constituents, as well the University faculty.”
As with any new technology, training ensures that once a solution is identified, it is actually used properly and in a way that yields the promised benefits. After selecting the CommonLook tools, Shawn made the decision to invest in the software’s accompanying training classes. “The training is excellent and invaluable. Upon completing training, the end user has an awareness and confidence that allows them to begin utilizing the software to high degree of immediate success,” he says.
Leading by Example
Shawn’s work at the ITC and the CDHD at the University of Idaho serves as a useful prototype for other organizations that are concerned with accessibility, whether or not they are within the realm of higher education. “We are delighted with the ease of use of the CommonLook software and we are equally delighted with how we have been able to train our web coordinators and interns on implementing the software, as well,” says Shawn. “The measurability speaks for itself in the quality of the accessibility of the remediated documents. I am very pleased with where we stand and where we are going in making sure our documents are accessible to all, thanks to the CommonLook software applications.”