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Hey everyone – attached is the transcript from our webinar with Tim Creagan and Terry Weaver on the Section 508 Refresh.  Enjoy. — TimS

TIMOTHY CREAGAN: The first question that we always get asked is why have a refresh.  Why have a renewal of the standards and guidelines and there is three main reasons and they are first of all, it is statutorily required.  Secondly there have been significant changes in technology and thirdly, there are a number of ambiguities in the current standards and guidelines which we often get questions on which we want to clarify.  Let me talk about each of those three in a little bit of detail.

First of all, the two laws we are talking about is Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act which is what most of us are here to listen to today.  Section 508 is a procurement law and there are technical standards which agencies must follow when developing procuring, using or maintaining electronic information technology.  The standards that we are using now were issued in 2000 and became effective June 21st, 2001.  That’s ten years.  That’s an age in technology standard.  Does anybody on this call has any computer that they are still using ten years on? Let me give you the phone number for the Smithsonian because they will want to talk to you.

Secondly, the other law that we are going to be talking about briefly is section 255 of the Telecommunications Act.  That is a law where the Access Board drafted the guidelines for how you make telecommunications equipment accessible.  The two laws, Refresh are being combined in one rule making because the two laws work together.  Part of the reason, like we talked about the change in technology in the last ten years with Section 508, is that in the last 13 years with the Telecommunications Act, which became effective in 1988, is that a lot of devices are using multiple functions exist on the same platform.  So I can have a device in my hand and it doesn’t really matter what I call it anymore.  Under Section 508 we were focused on what do I call this thing and that I have six categories of products that I have to look at and analyze for accessibility.  What the board is suggesting in the 2010 ANPRM it makes more sense in today’s world to look at what something does rather than what it is called.

Does it carry two way simultaneous voice communication?  Does it carry two way of simultaneous texting?  Can you access the Internet?  Can you send e-mails and so forth and so on.  So it makes more sense to look at these laws in the context of what are the functions that the technology is supposed to do.  And how can those functions be made accessible to people with disabilities and the last question about the ambiguities – the big question we get – what products are covered?  So if somebody comes to me and says well, I am holding a device and it has telecommunications capability and I can surf the Internet and text on it and write stuff so what am I supposed to use?  Do I use the provisions on web and software and I will say yes.  Do I use the provisions on hardware?  Yes.  Because that’s controls and keys.  I do use the provisions for telecommunications?  Yes.  You use all of those.  And so the product approach is somewhat dated now.  So what we are looking to do in the refresh is to improve on this and make it more functional.

So when we entered in to that process we are very clear that the goals we have for this refresh were that what we need are clear, consensus driven testable and reliable accessibility requirements.  In this world of global scale it is critical that accessibility requirements be harmonized throughout the world.  And let me just say that it is one thing that we consistently worked on throughout this process, looking at what the rest of the world is doing with accessibility and what standards you are using and harmonize and work with them to the extent that we can.  Product manufacturers want to build to a single set of items and Access Board should do what we can do to facilitate this because if we can take the regulatory process easier to achieve, we do not weaken the requirements we have today we will enhance the ability for people with disabilities.  This a direct quote from Mark Guthrie and he made that statement seven years ago at an international workshop.  That is the spirit and intent of this vision and that’s what we are following today.

Now what I would like to do is it briefly go through the next steps.  What happened in the refresh process is in July of 2006 we established what is called the public advisory committee.  The acronym for that was TEITAC and it stands for telecommunication, electronic and information technology advisory committee.  So we started that process in July 2006.  We had representatives from 41 different entities, industry, consumers, persons with disabilities, even some government agencies, accessibility consultants, standard setting body representatives as well as members from four foreign countries Canada, the European Union, Japan and Australia.

So all of these entities met with us for a two year period and they released a report of their recommendation on April 2008 and that report is available at www.access-board.gov and once the report was released the Access Board took the report and came up with what was called the first AMPRM which consists which is what is called an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rule Making.  What that means is we developed draft proposed text for both the Section 508 Standards, 255 guide lines and in this particular draft we also had proposed draft text for the Americans with Disabilities Act standards which apply to what we call self-service transaction machines.  That was released in March of 2010.

There was a 90 day public comment period on that document which was released in June, end of June of 2010.  And the Access Board reviewed comments.  Once the comments have been reviewed and the draft text has been revised and amended pursuant to these comments we are now prepared to release a second ANPRM, second Advanced Notice of Proposed Rule Making next fall.

The next step on this slide is once the board has agreed that is there is draft text that can be released.  The material is submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).  And that is where we are right now, today.  The office of management and budget has agreed to expedited review period and once they are finished the Access Board will publish the draft text which consists of the draft text and a preamble which is a history and overview of where the draft text was derived.  That document together is called an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rule Making.  That will be published in the Federal Register.  The expectation is that it will be published first week of December this year.  So in approximately three weeks we should have the second ANPRM in the Federal Register.  You can find it both Federal Register as well as the Access Board home page.  And when you click on the links there will be directions that show you where to go to review the preamble, to review the draft text and then also, if you wish to file comments, there will be instructions for doing that.  Comments for Federal rule makings are being hosted on the site www.regulations.gov.  All of those links and connections will be in the Federal Register notice when it comes out the first week of December.  I do not have any of that information currently.  That will be assigned once it is released for publication.  So again look for the first week of December, look for the Access Board website and look for the links to the ANPRM.  Once it is out staff will analyze the comments and then will use those comments to draw up a proposed rule and Notice of Proposed Rule Making.  We are in a second ANPRM because the comments from the first notice of Rule Making indicated there was questions from the public which we still needed answers to.  So what we are doing in the interim we are proposing additional questions for which the board is seeking input.  Again once all of this is analyzed and reviewed the public comment period we will develop what we call the proposed rule in addition to the propose the rule we will develop what is called a preliminary regulatory assessment.  Regulatory assessment is a cross benefit analysis of the impact of proposed regulations.  That package together with a preamble which will be explaining the difference between current 508 standards and proposed language in the NPRM, that’s what the preamble does, it goes through every provision and says where it exactly came from and how it differs from the existing law.  That package, the preamble, the regulatory assessment and the text of the NPRM, will then be submitted to OMB.

So like I said that gets submitted to OMB and are review it for a significant period of time and the NPRM will be published in the Federal Register.  It is hard to estimate a time period but it is most likely it is not going to happen much before the next year.  The expectation is it is an ANPRM, second ANPRM will be — the NPRM will go to OMB in the fall, approximately a year from now because we have to go through a comment and review period in the spring of 2012.  Then we will spend the summer reviewing the comments and the hope is that we will put the draft text, draft NPRM to OMB by fall of 2012.

OMB has to review it and then it will be published in the Federal Register.  Once it is published there will be another public comment period of at least three months and public comments will be analyzed.  Develop a final rule tweak the regulatory asset and the final will be published in the Federal Register.  Right now we are in the phase where the draft secondary NPRM has been submitted to OMB and it is being reviewed by them and very next thing that’s going to happen it is going to be published in the Federal Register.

TIM SPRINGER:  First question when does this all go in to effect?  What do we think this is going to be applicable both on the public sector side and on the private sector side as we sell in to the public sector in the U.S.  There is a process there.  What do we think if we read the tea leaves when this will all go down.

TIMOTHY CREAGAN:  Where we are right now is we are in the process which is defined by the Administrative Procedure Act.  Whenever you have a rule making you follow these steps as set forth in the law until the requirements say that typically you have a Notice of Proposed Rule Making or what the Access Board did is we put in extra steps ahead of that because we felt that public input was important on something which is so widely impacts government operations and in an area that changes a lot, mainly electronic and information technology.

So when we set the advisory committee up we issue our first Advanced Notice of Proposed Rule Making and get a lot of public comments and now we are at the stage where it is very important to get additional public comments based on the comments we got the first time.  And as I said this is going through R&D and we are about to release the second ANPRM in December of this year.

The comment period will last for approximately three months which will put us through March of 2012.  Then when the public comment period is finished the Access Board will review comments and based on the comments received, we will have revised draft text.  And we will also prepare a preamble and regulatory assessment.  All of those steps together will probably take us through in to the fall of 2012.

Once OMB does review a process, say when they do a review for a Notice of Proposed Rule Making, the comment review period for OMB is significantly longer than it is for ANPRM and the review period can be at least 90 days.  So if you figure that an NPRM would probably be published sometime in early 2013, we would be looking at some time in probably fall of 2013 would be the earliest before you would see a final rule released.

TERRY WEAVER:  The next part of this, of course, is we have to also update the Federal acquisition regulation and that should be done concurrently, the draft of that should go out also in conjunction with the NPRM.  It needs to be able to point to what is apparently going to be the standards.  So you won’t see an NPRM or an ANPRM I should say coming out on the requirements because the procurement language is not something that is going to change radically.  We have to include in our procurements what we are going to change is the specifics about it which will come clearer as we go through the review process, the ANPRM and the NPRM.  Be looking next fall to have an admission to OMB for the NPRM for the changes to the FAR and go out with the goal of it being concurrent with the revised standards.

TIMOTHY CREAGAN: let’s see, one the questions was if someone wants to get involved in the refresh process the best way to do is to participate in the public comments.  I encourage everyone listening today to get a copy of the draft text of the NPRM the first week it comes out in first week in December and file comment on regulations.gov and we have a variety of methods for submitting comments and read the instructions and follow through with those because one of the things that is most helpful to us is public participation in the comment process because comments can address issues such as technology, standards that may have become finalized since this draft was put out and operational questions.  So all of this input is very, very helpful.  With regards to the rest of the questions conformance testing and that’s not something — the Access Board never recommends or makes anything, any standards or statements about conformance requirements.  The base law Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act says that each agency is responsible for establishing its own conformance programs.  What Terry has talked about at GSA, buy accessible wizards are current examples of tools that agencies can use to determine what they deem conformant with the program.  Access board develops the standards themselves.  We will be working with General Services Administration to develop and release revised technical assistance based on the final standards.  But we are a ways off with that.

TIMOTHY CREAGAN:  When I mentioned earlier when we had the original advisory committee we had international representation on it and the countries that are participating Japan, Australia, the European Union and Canada are very interested in accessibility standards and they to a large extent are working on standards themselves.  For example, the in Canada the province of Ontario has recently released requirements for Ontarios with Disabilities Act in which they are looking at providing services to people.  And in this particular instance coming up in the new year they are releasing accessibility standards which address the user experience in the retail environment.  So they are obviously in their participation on the TEITAC committee and their own sphere they are working on accessibility irk us.  So the idea of accessibility is something that’s being viewed globally.  With regard to the question about WCAG for those of you who may have actually seen the original TEITAC, the Access Board should consider harmonizing WCAG 2.0 so address the issues of web content and we put that recommendation out there in the first ANPRM and we received a lot of public comments on that issue.  I can’t comment on what is in the new ANPRM because it is not released yet but I would, you know, recommend that people just see what happens on December 1st.

TERRY WEAVER:  I would like to come back in on also on the same issue that talked about the VPATs the accessibility services.  Buy accessible does have in its market research area, in the area we allow venders to provide us with information, product and services directory we do have companies that do accessibility services listed in there.  So for government buyers and we have done this deliberately.  So government buyers coming out and not really looking for the provisions of a particular standard but they are looking for help but we do have companies that are registered through the buy accessible under products and research and they can find access to those companies.  That is in there as a resource and Tim I would like to answer other question coming in about VPAT and it is a question of talking about the word voluntary.  Let me do a little bit of a quick background on acquisitions, okay?

The Federal government is very formalized in how it goes out and conducts acquisitions.  You may have been on one of our major acquisition boards Federal business opportunities or FBO.gov you pick your acronym of choice there and the requirements on the agency and when they put together an acquisition it is pretty big.  That’s what the Federal acquisition regulations do.  They give a lot of requirements on folks to put out there that we define requirements clearly.  That we follow our evaluation methodology as outlined in the solicitation and that we make award decision based on that.

So when the Federal agency says I am going to buy an ICT product or service or IT product or service and we define a requirements for that, and we tell you we want you to give us a VPAT for each product or service that you are offering us under the solicitation, we are putting to an issue recognized format in VPAT.  The word voluntary means nothing in this instance because what the government is saying I have a requirement.  I am going to analyze this type of documentation to determine if you meet my requirements.  The voluntary part in this instance whether or not you want it take part of procurement or not.  So if you are on the receiving end of solicitation that says all venders need to submit VPAT, I would possibility suggest VPAT and say the agency does say VPAT, then the companies can determine that they are going to write the VPAT or question it during the Q and A session I don’t have VPAT my lawyers don’t like VPAT.  This is not the same VPAT that you will find on buy accessible.  Because many companies will tailor their VPATs based on the requirements they see in the solicitation.  If you submit it to an agency as part of a solicitation not publicly available.  You submit what I am requiring in my solicitation.  In my RFP.  If you don’t submit what I am requiring to you are not playing in my solicitation.  The voluntary part really refers to the market research aspect and we put the publicly available information that people can see out there.  That’s whole different area of procurement process.

TIM SPRINGER:  One final question, this is one where we were talking about the other day which is should companies take the stance of, okay, I am going to look into the future, extrapolate from the 2010 ANPRM and 2011 ANPRM and I am going to start implementing towards a WCAG? Or do we focus on the current 508 laws and approach it that way from a development perspective?

TIMOTHY CREAGAN:  All I can say is that I don’t know what the final rule is going to be because we don’t have any draft text.  All I can say is that the original TEITAC recommendation did recommend something — they recommended the approach for functions inside a product.  That’s going to continue.  Anything else is potentially up for grabs.  Check our website the first week of December.

TERRY WEAVER:  Also our current bar regulations do speak to Section 508 I would love for somebody to show me how to map them together.  I am not sure that anyone has shown that Section 508 V 1 maps to WCAG 2.0 but to the extent it maps, great.  They have missed something we have Section 508 current day and have WCAG we still have to do Section 508.

TIMOTHY CREAGAN:  When you look at the were published in Federal Register you will see in the current 508 standards they referenced WCAG 1.0 which was what in effect in 2000.  There is a little chart comparing WCAG 1.0 provisions to 508 provisions circa 2000.  So the cross referencing between WCAG and Section 508 has been considered for awhile.  Question asking how these regulations are enforced, again these are all enforced by agency at the agency level.  Typically agencies are encouraged to have a complaint process which may be modeled under Section 504 complaint requirements but if they don’t have something else already in place.  The complaint process is typically based on products which are procured and the complainant would essentially say it did not procure an accessible product and the solution would be remediation.  So that the product or the feature would be made accessible.

TERRY WEAVER:  I am going to tell you that reason I am focusing on buy accessible and the quick links because it is a back to the future event.  You will see the type of solution evolving that we are going to need to have in place to help support agencies when the new standards released.  So what’s buy accessible other than an acronym and a website. It is free to everyone.  And guides users through an acquisition process to help them get information that need to do to fulfill the requirements under the acquisition process and keeps them documenting what they are doing as well.  We have a directory underneath that helps them get access to vender information that has been supplied to us that we discovered ourselves and what we tried to do with the buy access widget is to make life easier on the buyer.  So that they would be able comply without having to become Section 508 experts.  The widget has been out for seven years and one of the interesting things about the buy accessible widget it is not product based but it is characteristic based.  So when you go through the wizard it is asking information that’s very similar to how the new standard is set up.  It is focusing on what the product characteristics or the service characteristics are not the name of the product which is good because’ we know when Tim talks about when this started ten or 13 years ago none of us understood smart phones back then and if we had to had a hard line drawn about where a smart phone we would not be where we needed to be today.  We needed to move toward it characteristic way of going there.

Buy accessible is so important because it has been designed to support the whole acquisition workforce.  Requirement officials which frequently project managers, program managers people who have the requirement for the technology.  The IT specialists who support those people.  People who do credit card purchases, procurement officials.  They are charged with keeping government’s procurements in line with regulations.  All involved in this and people who manage contracts once they are awarded.  What you will see coming up in buy accessible though how we can repackage and hit the people who are not necessarily tied to a procurement.

One of the bases that we have created working with industry in the past was that the — there was a very strong desire that we didn’t have every Federal agency coming out with a different way of specifying what the requirements were for Section 508 and so what became in the past was something called a VPAT voluntary product accessibility template.  Industry uses it to tell us government buyers how their products need Section 508.  They tell us in greater or lesser detail because it is voluntary.  And there is no certification or testing process out there universally.  Some agencies have put some in place but we don’t have a government wide certification process but the VPAT is a means of at least providing in a standard format the information about a product or a service as it pertains to Section 508.  It needs that requirement under the FAR to for the Federal agencies to be specific about what their needs are.  We can’t just tell somebody do 508.  We have to tell them what that means.  What is a GPAT?  It is basically evolved VPAT but it is a document we have created and it is a government product accessibility template.  It is based on the best practices that the VPAT and by the way, VPAT is actually registered by the information technology industry council.  So you can find the VPAT at ITIC.org.  It is their product and also get a link through buy accessible to get the to VPAT.  GPAT takes some of the best practices that they have included on the website and incorporate it.  GPAT is much clearer.  What provisions comply and any additional marks to help the user how it works.  VPAT and GPATs are good valuation tools.  They work for people who are developing systems or using systems two of the big key areas that the 508 languages applies.  And when you look at social media this becomes important.  So we went through this process of creating buy accessible and we have a widget that walks people through simple questions on their requirements.  And drive what language they should be including and do their market research on contracts.  But guess what?  People don’t all want to get educated and even a wizard can take too long.  What we started to realize that there were instances that we could come up with some prepackage language for solicitations and that’s what a quick link:  It is not boilerplate.  It is not that kind of standard language thing that we don’t like which says do 508 if it applies.  It is tailored to a particular deliverable and the new term of art is the Information and communication technologies.  So we are referencing this and incorporating it by reference and trying to move to use that terminology as well. Language in quick links is based on unique different products and services that are pretty definable.  I have said frequently if you are buying software I don’t care if you are buying statistical sample software, if you are buying word processing software, if I know it is software that is only running from my desktop then I know the requirements and the 508 requirements we can specify.  So what we have done we started building.  We have 32 different quick links out there from multi-purpose printers and copiers to think like e-books software and content.  Quick links we know not everyone can be a Section 508 expert but we are realizing that people are becoming more and more aware of their need to understand and comply with Section 508 but they are looking for the quick answer and not trying to penalize people just realization you can’t train everyone on everything and if you look to a new standard, we have a lot more information coming out there and this requirement to help people find a package is going to become even more important.

So what’s in a quick link. A quick link currently is designed to match up with the basically standard process of a Federal acquisition regulations FAR, solicitation.  So we have definition of what the deliverable is.  We point to the UNSPC codes to try to tie them to the product codes of what the product is also and includes also a detailed GPAT for that product.  We tell them what technical standards subpart B apply.  We tell them what functional performance criteria apply as well as information documentation and support.  Not only given the GPAT but also give them language, give them language to put in the program need area and give them language to put in their requirements, statement of work area and give them language for this evaluation factors as well as acceptance criteria because it isn’t just what we evaluate when we do a procurement and it is what we accept when we take deliverable.  And that’s where Section 508 requirements need to come on to make sure that as we go forward that we are buying the stuff this we — we make assessment or make a purchase decision that everything coming in the door continues to meet that same standard.

So in looking what might be coming next in this area, the quick link repository are 32 quick links that we have out there.  We are constantly looking to update them and put out new quick link and you will be seeing more and more of them out there.  We will also be looking at how we could use the quick links to help people including VPAT.  We can tell the people can do this but basically us telling people who to apply it.  We are looking forward to the XML version of the VPAT.  I know there is some question about the VPAT being useful under the new provisions and I think the VPAT are going to updated as well and also gone through a process of making those VPAT XML.  Currently VPAT, have Word documents and can’t use them in any evaluate method.  If they are converted to — we are looking at this coming down the line.  Quickly and also helped even today for market research and in the future we might be able to use quick links against XML versions of VPAT, GPAT to help people do market research and find out who has a product out there that meets the need for them.  Presuming that the XML versions are populated and pushed out there.  Because at this point we can’t do that with the current Word version.  There is a question about quick links being available for the general public or only for government people and the answer to that is they are available to everyone.  Everything on buy accessible is open to whoever signs on.  There is a registered user component where some Federal agencies have registered with us and their people go through that under a different role and that’s to help them manage and oversee their own procurements.  Honest most of all traffic is created by people who are coming through as a guest and guests are anybody who wants to go through the process.