Internal IT developers are responsible for ensuring compliance with Section 508 for the products and services that are created within the Department/Agency environment. This means they need to determine when Section 508 applies, what accessibility requirements are applicable, and identify testing, inspection and acceptance criteria for internal deliverables. (i.e., software development, Intranet development, internal IT maintenance and services)
The BuyAccessible Wizard can help determine applicable Section 508 technical provisions. The Wizard’s Acceptance criteria output and the Quick Reference Guide have additional information that is useful.
Agency IT Developers should coordinate with the Program Management Office (PMO) to:
- Identify 508 applicability and accessibility requirements
- Determine inspection and acceptance criteria for deliverables
Agency IT Developers should also coordinate with the PMO/Testing Specialists to conduct delivery inspection, testing and acceptance.
This post is part of a blog series on: Section 508 Roles and Responsibillities.
There has been some confusion regarding Sole Source solicitations and Section 508 compliance. The FAR is very clear that Section 508 should be considered in ALL solicitations, with the following exceptions: National Security, EIT acquired incidental to a contract, “back office”, and Undue Burden (FAR Subpart 39.2 Electronic and Information Technology). Undue Burden can only be claimed after the agency has conducted accessibility market research to determine that it would create a significant hardship on the agency. Commercial non availability, which can also be the basis for a Sole Source justification, is like undue burden in the sense that it can only be claimed after accessibility market research has been completed and approval has been received from the agency.
Claims for both Undue Burden and Commercial non availability MUST be documented and included in the contract file, see FAR 39.203(c)(2) and 39.204(e)(2)(i). There is no requirement to include this information in solicitation documents, but we highly recommend doing so as a good business practice. If Sole Source contracts do not include proof of conformance to Section 508 requirements or documented claims for either Undue Burden or Commercial non availability in the contract file, they could result in an administrative complaint by a user or a legal action by a vendor excluded from bidding on the contracts. Section 508 requirements along with other technical requirements define acceptance criteria for the Sole Source deliverable.
We are starting a new blog series called, “Department/Agency Section 508 Roles and Responsibilities.” Each post will be discussing different roles and responsibilities with regard to the implementation of Section 508. This is the first blog in the series: Requiring Authority (Program/Project Management and Office/Statement of Work developer)
Who is the Requiring Authority?
- Program/Project Management Office (PMO)
- Statement of Work (SOW) developer
What are the requiring authority’s responsibilities regarding Section 508 implementation?
- Determine the Section 508 applicability by answering the question, “Does Section 508 apply to my solicitation?”
- Identify the accessibility requirements by answering the question, “What Section 508 technical and functional provisions apply to the type of product or service that I want to purchase?”
- Conduct market research to determine the availability of an accessible product or service. This market research should be documented to show Section 508 due diligence.
The BuyAccessible tools may be used to perform all of these functions. Going through the Buy Accessible Wizard process can help determine Section 508 applicability, select relevant Section 508 technical provisions, and document market research. The Accessibility Resource Center (ARC) with links to accessibility information for many IT vendors can also assist with the accessibility portion of market research.
The Requiring Authority (PMO/SOW developer) should coordinate with:
- IT Specialists to identify 508 applicability and accessibility requirements
- IT/Testing Specialists to identify inspection and acceptance criteria for deliverables
- Program Management to determine proposal evaluation factors
- Contracting Officers to ensure that accessibility requirements, inspection and acceptance criteria, and evaluation factors are appropriately represented in the solicitation
- Testing Specialists to develop test plans and conduct delivery inspection, testing and acceptance
Our continuing blog series will discuss roles and responsibilities for:
- Contracting Officer/COTR
- Department/Agency Chief Information Officer (CIO) Office
- Department/Agency IT Developers
Did you know that the BuyAccessible site has tools to help you test products to see how well they meet Section 508 provisions? One approach is to evaluate products for conformance to the applicable section 508 provisions. GSA helped develop a document that can make this process easier.
Years ago GSA facilitated the Accessibility Forum. Over 960 individuals from more than 600 companies, associations for people with disabilities, research and standards institutes, and government agencies from throughout the US and Canada registered interest and contributed in the work of the Forum. One of the documents that came out of the Forum was the Quick Reference Guide, which lists every Section 508 provision, defines terms, explains the provision, and answers, “How can I tell if this provision is met?”
In addition, if you are buying a macro purchase, i.e. IT valued above $3,000, then your BuyAccessible Wizard Guest User session will produce an Acceptance Guide tailored for that product. The Acceptance Guide includes a list of provisions that are relevant as well as the answer to the question, “How can I tell if this requirement is met?” (The Wizard also give you a GPAT to include in your solicitation, as well as an Evaluation Guide that helps you assess responses to the GPAT.)
Example from an Acceptance Guide: Provision 1194.21 (h)
When animation is displayed, the information shall be displayable in at least one non-animated presentation mode at the option of the user.
How can I tell if this requirement is met?
Identify the set of occurrences where animation is displayed by the product. Methods for determining the full set of controls that display animation include review of the product interface and the product documentation (e.g. user manuals plus online help).
Inspect the application.
- Check for option turning on redundant information for animated presentations.
- Check for a method of turning off animation in the display. If available, inactivate animation. For each animated element verify animation is not displayed and alternate information is provided.
Note: Satisfying this requirement may involve interoperability with assistive technology, such as screen readers. The non-animated presentation mode must be accessible to assistive technology. Moving text and animation is a particular problem for screen magnification AT and other technologies.
Yes. Section 508 applies when Federal agencies “develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology.” Even if the agency is simply procuring a new version of an existing product, Section 508 applies. Section 508 requirements must be considered in the Brand Name justification and in the “or Equal” decision. It is a best practice to include Section 508 requirements in solicitation documentation for Brand Name or Equal, otherwise how are vendors able to propose products or services that equals the brand name? Since agencies are required to document the justification for other than full and open procurement, it should not add any significant effort to include that Section 508 documentation in your solicitation.
It would also be useful to request a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) from all bidders. Brand Name updates can change accessibility features, so it is always good to get the most current data. Further, accessibility information is needed from Brand Name alternatives to determine if they are in fact equal in terms of their accessibility and usability.
GSA’s Office of Governmentwide Policy, Information Resources Management Division, Section 508 Program Office assesses samples of Federal EIT solicitations to see if they contain the required Section 508 technical standards and sends feedback to the department/agency and the procurement officials. Here is an example of a solicitation that was revised based on the feedback an agency received from GSA’s assessment team.
We received a solicitation in November that had a tremendous amount Section 508 language in it. We were initially thrilled that someone had taken so much time to include all of this detailed info on exactly what Section 508 meant and why it was important. After searching this extensive amount of data it became apparent that a very critical aspect was missing. Nowhere in the document did it mention how Section 508 was applicable to the desired deliverable or better yet which standards and provisions were applicable.
When addressing potential vendors it is imperative that agencies are specific about their Section 508 requirements. It would be impossible for a vendor to properly address an agencies Section 508 requirements if they are not spelled out in the solicitation. Remember it is the agencies responsibility to determine which standards apply and convey that information to the vendor. The vendor would then be able to specify if their product or services can meet the applicable standards.
As a result this solicitation was graded as non-compliant and an assessment feedback letter was sent to the agency.
But there is a bright side to this story. In January the same solicitation was again selected in our random sampling. Based on our feedback, the agency had amended their solicitation to include a detailed list of the applicable technical Section 508 provisions for the vendor. This amendment along with the detailed explanation of Section 508 will be instrumental in acquiring the desired deliverable. In addition they also identified the accessibility factors that would be used in the evaluation of proposals and acceptance criteria for inspection/testing of the delivered product and to requested accessibility information from vendor.
This agency should be congratulated on a job well done, and yes they now were the recipients of a fully compliant feedback letter!
How many Electronic and Information Technology (EIT) products that you buy include product support information on the Internet? We are willing to guess many of them! When product support information is provided on the web for products that are likely to be used by government staff, then that information is EIT subject to Section 508 Subpart D — Information, Documentation, and Support (Section 1194.41). Since the support material is delivered over the Internet, the provisions of Section 1194.22, Web-based intranet and internet information and applications, are also applicable. If the support materials include video, then that video is also subject to the provisions of Video and Multimedia Products (Section 1194.24). It is important to let vendors know about these agency requirements in your solicitations.
For example, if you are buying a printer that has product support documentation on the web, you need to require that the printer vendor supply documentation as to how their on-line documents conform to the Section 508 guidelines for web documentation.
When you use the BuyAccessible Wizard or Quick Links, one of the outputs you get is a Government Product/Service Accessibility Template (GPAT). A GPAT is a simple tool to assist Federal contracting and procurement officials in fulfilling the market research requirements associated with the Section 508 standards. The GPAT is intended as a form to be included with government solicitations. It provides the full list of technical provisions and indicates which ones are required or maybe required by the government to ensure the deliverable is accessible. The government is required to identify Section 508 requirements NOT the vendor. When included with the solicitation the GPAT becomes a mandatory requirement as a part of the vendor proposal to indicate how their proposed solution addresses the applicable Section 508 requirements. The vendor addresses the two columns labeled “how does the EIT meet this requirement” and “please explain.”
Your Section 508 technical provisions are determined based in part on the EIT requirements you identified using the BuyAccessible Wizard. Provisions based on EIT requirements you identified are indicated by a “yes” in the applicable column. Provisions based on possible EIT requirements are indicated by a “maybe” in the applicable column. Provisions not identified with program requirements for this acquisition have no entry in the applicable column. However, if the vendor’s product or service delivered has physical or functional characteristics corresponding to any of the listed EIT accessibility requirements, even those beyond identified program requirements, then the requirement applies and the vendor should provide appropriate accessibility information for these features. To make this process easier, some standard products and services have a GPAT already completed available through the Quick Links.
The GPAT is organized as a series of ten tables. The first eight tables reflect accessibility information about EIT products, corresponding to the six technical standards, the functional performance criteria, and the requirements for information, documentation, and support as defined in the Access Board Standard for Section 508. The ninth and tenth tables correspond to accessibility information about information content deliverables and labor hours, respectively.
Using standard procurement language can not only be misleading and more often than not is simply the wrong thing to do (see our post on Is Standard Language Dangerous?) A recent solicitation for laboratory products and supplies included a statement that ALL services and products provided in response to this requirement shall comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. There was a very long list of items to be procured: autoclave bags, hand soap, disinfecting spray, gloves, and lab coats, among others. Even for us, it was easy to determine there was not a single item that was even close to being Electronic and Information Technology (EIT). The only way a vendor could possibly respond without insulting the agency is to ignore the statement or state “not applicable”. Agencies should not say “All products and services” or even “If a product or service is EIT”. The agency must go through the list of items and identify which of these are EIT and, are therefore, subject to Section 508. If they had done so, they would have found that none of the items in that list were EIT and could have stated as much.
Another example is solicitation that contained procurement language that required vendors to include a statement addressing compliance or noncompliance with Section 508. This clouds the issue and unfairly attempts to shift the entire 508 burden to companies responding to solicitations. Federal departments and agencies are responsible for Section 508 requirements NOT the vendor. The department or agency should identify the specific accessibility requirements that apply. Agencies can request information from the vendor about how these requirements are met by the product or service, but agencies should not ask the vendor to certify compliance.