Just announced: Level Access and eSSENTIAL Accessibility agree to merge! Read more.
Key on a keyboard with international symbol of access icon

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the 2015 Section 508 Interagency Accessibility Forum.  The Forum provides an opportunity for Federal Government employees and contractors to learn, share, demonstrate, and encourage digital accessibility.  In my next few posts I’ll share my notes from the plenary sessions and workshops I attended.

Federal Leadership Panel

This first plenary session featured a panel moderated by Bill Peterson, Director of the Office of Accessible Systems and Technology, Dept. of Homeland Security. Panel members included:

  • Danny Harris, CIO, Dept. of Education
  • Willie Smith, Senior Procurement Executive, Dept. of Transportation, and Co-Chair of Accessibility Community of Practice, CIO Council
  • Dawn Leaf, CIO, Dept. of Labor
  • Adrian Gardner, CIO, FEMA

Across the panel there was a very clear focus on the integration of accessibility and Section 508 compliance into the development lifecycle. The goal, as articulated at least, is that we want to make things accessible as part of the process – not as an add-on activity.  At SSB we would agree with that: our long term focus as an industry needs to continue to grow towards a baked-in integration into enterprise development and authoring systems.  That approach would align with the Federal needs.

Another idea, floated by Dawn Leaf, was to provide a federal testing program for accessibility similar to the FedRAMP program for security. This would align with other trusted tester approaches – such as those by DHS – to allow for one time testing and certification of a system for accessibility.  I thought that was a particularly compelling idea as it would help to remove the (significant) duplication of effort in testing across the Federal Government.

Another clear lesson learned was to ensure that there is engagement in the procurement process to ensure advocacy for the community of people with disabilities. Part of that means working with and discussing with the private sector how they can collaboratively work with the government to define approaches for making things accessible. “It’s not a compliance issue, it is a social responsibility issue.”

Finally there was a fair amount of discussion regarding the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) law and the impact it is having on reporting on program efficacy on a recurring basis. This was a matter of OMB policy previously now it is a matter of law that OMB coordinates.  All panelists, and a variety of the follow-on sessions, noted this as a big Section 508 compliance driver going forward.

My next post will share notes from a workshop presented by GSA Section 508 Coordinator Quentin Scott on developing an effective 508 program.