Nov 09 2012

Does Section 508 Apply to Freeware?

Category: Acquisition Process, BeAccessibleBuyAccessible Team @ 11:09 am

It is important to remember that Section 508 standards apply not only to the procurement of Electronic and Information Technology (EIT), but also to its use. This means that freeware is subject to Section 508 standards even if acquiring it did not require formal procurement.

All or most Federal Agencies do not allow the installation of applications on Government IT equipment without authorization of system administrators. There is an obligation to ensure that software that is installed for use complies with Section 508 standards directly, or is capable of being made accessible or interacting with assistive technology in such a way that the requirements of Section 508 are met.

Software isn’t only applications that are downloaded to a PC. Some areas are easy to overlook because we don’t think of them as procurement based EIT. For example applications for smart phones that are furnished for use must comply with Section 508 standards. Because the manufacturers of smartphone apps may not supply accessibility information of any kind, it may require testing within the agency to determine if a particular application complies with Section 508 standards.

The status is of applications which run entirely outside the Federal environment but may be accessed through the internet is unclear, since many Web 2.0 services including conference registration forms, etc. are “software,” however there is a clear determination that cloud-based software that is leased by an agency for use but hosted elsewhere must be 508 compliant so the same would pertain to any non-procured software that was hosted elsewhere but used by an agency.

Of course it is also the case that software is still COTS even if the cost of it is zero, and determination of commercial non-availability apply, as well as undue burden should not be determined any differently than EIT which is obtained through procurement. Likewise the case where no product meets all the standards the Agency still must must procure the product that best meets the standards and the agency’s technical requirements.

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2 Responses to “Does Section 508 Apply to Freeware?”

  1. Jim Tobias says:

    Thanks for this important clarification. Regarding smartphones, there may be an additional item to consider. Section 718 of the Communication and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) covers the accessibility of browser software provided in the phones as delivered (compared to browsers downloaded by users later). This law applies to all phones sold in the US, not just those covered by Section 508. Readers may want to look into how FCC CVAA Section 718 regulations supplement Section 508 accessibility.

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