OMB crowdsourcing improvements to Section 508

Monday - 3/19/2012, 6:17pm EDT

The White House is seeking ideas from the public on how agencies can improve the management of Section 508, the law requiring agencies to make information technology accessible to people with disabilities.

The Office of Management and Budget today created an Ideascale page to accept ideas and comments for the National Dialogue on Improving the Section 508 Program.

"Some federal agencies have made great strides implementing Section 508 and have robust programs in place," OMB wrote on the page. "This National Dialogue on the Strategy to Improve Management of Section 508 will help us learn from those agencies, build upon their success, incorporate best practices from private industry, get feedback from academia, consider personal experiences and focus on the areas that need the most attention."

Comments are due by April 9.

Over the last six months, OMB led a series of listening sessions with agencies, the Access Board, advocacy groups, agency 508 coordinators and many others to develop a set of concepts for how to improve the 20-year-old law that sets standards for how the government and industry ensure accessibility for people with disabilities.

Asking for more input

The crowdsourcing initiative takes the high level concepts developed during the listening sessions and asks for more input.

"We're looking for you to comment on what has been proposed, but also for you to propose broad management strategies, tactics, and actions that can ultimately help federal agencies better comply with Section 508," wrote Steven VanRoekel, the federal chief information officer, Lesley Field, the acting administrator in the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, and Kareem Dale, the special assistant to the President for disability policy in a blog post.

Interested parties can comment on three of the seven areas, including a list of 14 suggestions to improve the oversight of Section 508.

The initiative also lists new metrics for Section 508, including increasing transparency by requiring agencies to collect and respond to formal 508 compliance complaints, by mandating agencies develop and maintain a process for collecting and responding to problem reports, feedback and suggestions, and by maintaining an acquisition strategy to require the purchase of accessible technologies.

Effort comes amid diversity push

This effort comes as agencies are taking on several Section 508 related initiatives, and are expected to hire a more diverse group of people, including those with disabilities.

The Access Board is updating the standards governing technology.

The Justice Department is expected to issue the results of a governmentwide survey about how agencies are meeting the rules under 508. In 2010, the White House issued a memo on accountability in which it directed the Justice Department to publish progress reports starting in 2011. The department failed to do that.

And President Barack Obama asked agencies and vendors to hire more people with disabilities.

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