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21Apr

Government Contractors Be Aware – FAR Update on Accessible ICT

April 21, 2020
picture of .gov with magnifier
gov with magnifier

Although it has been more than three years since the U.S. Access Board finalized its Revised 508 Standards, U.S. federal government contractors should be aware that the Federal Acquisition Regulation (“FAR”) is finally being updated to incorporate the Revised 508 Standards for acquisitions of information and communications technology (“ICT”).  This action is particularly important for government contractors that may be delivering or helping to code government websites and software applications with user interfaces as the Revised 508 Standards require electronic content and most types of software to conform to Level A and Level AA Success Criteria of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires that federal agencies ‘‘develop, procure, maintain, or use’’ ICT in a manner that ensures that federal employees with disabilities have comparable access to, and use of, such information and data relative to other federal employees.  Section 508 also requires federal agencies to ensure that members of the public with disabilities have comparable access to publicly available information and data.  Federal agencies relying upon government contractors to deliver or help code web page and software applications are responsible, pursuant to the FAR, for ensuring that acquisitions meet the Access Board’s accessibility standards at 36 CFR Part 1194.

The accessibility standards were updated in January 2017 and included new WCAG compliance requirements for electronic content and software applications, but the FAR was never updated to fully align with the Access Board’s revised standards.  This situation has sometimes caused confusion over the appropriate standards to apply for federally procured ICT (the previous Access Board 508 standards were originally published in December 2000 and did not reference the WCAG). As explained by the proposed FAR rule issued on March 31, 2020, “entities will need to familiarize themselves with the differences between the 2000 and 2017 standards in order to assess the impact on procurements and comply with the revised functional performance criteria and technical accessibility standards beyond those currently mandated in FAR.”

Government contractors who supply ICT to federal agencies, particularly web applications and software with user interfaces, should make sure that they are familiar with WCAG 2.0 and its Level A and Level AA Success Criteria.  Contractors should further consider incorporating automated and manual accessibility testing into their ICT development lifecycle processes to ensure that web applications and applicable software are fully compliant with the Revised 508 Standards before delivery to government customers.  User1st performs such automated and manual accessibility testing with proprietary software tools and expert testing staff and can assist government contractors in their accessibility compliance.

The proposed FAR rule is published at: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2020-03-31/pdf/2020-05867.pdf

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