Policy Brief: Summary of the Access Board’s Final Rule Revising the ICT Standards in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Telecommunications Guidelines in Section 255 of the Communications Act

On January 18, 2017, the United States Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) published a final rule in the Federal Register that revises and updates two important regulations:

  • Standards for information and communication technology (ICT) [formerly referred to as electronic and information technology] developed, procured, maintained, or used by federal agencies covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (Section 508); and
  • Guidelines for telecommunications equipment and customer premises equipment covered by Section 255 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended (Section 255).

ICT is a term used broadly by the Access Board throughout the preamble accompanying the final revised rule (and in this policy brief) to encompass electronic and information technology covered by Section 508, as well as telecommunications products and other products and equipment covered by Section 255. Examples of ICT include computers, information kiosks and transaction machines, telecommunications equipment, multifunction office machines, software, websites, and electronic documents. [82 FR 5790 (January 18, 2017)]

The revisions and updates to the Section 508-based standards and the Section 255-based guidelines are intended to ensure that ICT covered by the respective statutes is accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. [82 FR 5790 (January 18, 2017)] The Access Board states that the final rule is expected to generate significant benefits, including:

  • Increased employment of individuals with disabilities;
  • Increased ability of individuals with disabilities to obtain information on federal agency websites and conduct transactions electronically;
  • More civic engagement by individuals with disabilities due to improved access to information and services on federal agency websites;
  • Increased ability of individuals with disabilities to evaluate, purchase, and make full use of telecommunications products due to increased accessibility of support documentation and services;
  • Increased ability of individuals without disabilities to access information and conduct their business electronically when they face situational limitations (in a noisy place, in a low bandwidth environment, or in bright sunlight);
  • Potential cost-savings to federal agencies due to reduced levels of in-person visits and mail correspondence;
  • Larger pool of ICT developers and content creators with accessibility knowledge and skills, providing more choice to federal agencies due to use of internationally recognized, industry-driven standards; and
  • Cost savings to agencies already complying with equivalent WCAG 2.0 standards because of the availability of WCAG 2.0 support materials.

[82 FR 5823 (January 18, 2017)]

The final rule is effective on March 20, 2017. However, compliance with the Section 508-based standards is not required until January 18, 2018. Prior to this date, agencies must continue to comply with the existing Section 508 standards. For ease of reference, the existing Section 508 standards have been republished as Appendix D to this rule. [82 FR 5821 (January 18, 2017)] The Access Board also explains that “this one-year compliance for the Revised 508 standards is applicable to all ICT except that which is covered by the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR). The Board continues to defer to the FAR Council to establish the compliance date for new and existing ICT procurements subject to the Revised 508 Standards.” [82 FR 5821 (January 18, 2017)]

Further, compliance with the Section 255-based guidelines is not required until the guidelines are adopted by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). [82 FR  5790 (January 18, 2017)]

The purpose of this policy brief is to provide a summary of key provisions and highlight select changes to assist federal agencies, people with disabilities, and other stakeholders in understanding this lengthy rule. The policy brief includes the following sections:

Overview of Section 508 and Section 255

Section 508

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, (Section 508) mandates that federal agencies develop, procure, maintain, or use ICT in a manner that ensures federal employees with disabilities have comparable access to, and use of, such information and data relative to other federal employees, unless doing so would impose an undue burden (significant difficulty or expense). Section 508 also requires federal agencies to ensure that members of the public with disabilities have comparable access to publicly-available information and services, unless doing so would impose an undue burden on the agency. [82 FR 5790 (January 18, 2017)]

In accordance with the Section 508 statute, the Access Board must publish standards that define electronic and information technology (referred to in the revised rule and in this policy brief as information and communication technology, or ICT) along with the technical and functional performance criteria necessary for accessibility, and periodically review and amend the standards. When the Board revises its existing 508 standards (whether to keep up with technological changes or otherwise), Section 508 also mandates that, within six months, both the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council (FAR Council) and federal agencies incorporate these revised standards into their respective acquisition regulations and procurement policies and directives. Thus, with respect to procurement-related matters, the Access Board’s 508 standards are not self-enforcing; rather, these standards take legal effect when adopted by the FAR Council. [82 FR 5790 (January 18, 2017)]

Section 255

Section 255 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended (Section 255), requires telecommunications equipment and services to be accessible to, and usable by, individuals with disabilities, where readily achievable. “Readily achievable” is defined in the statute as “easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense.” In determining whether an access feature is readily achievable, the FCC, which has exclusive implementation and enforcement authority under Section 255, has directed telecommunications equipment manufacturers and service providers to weigh the nature and cost of that feature against the individual company’s overall financial resources, taking into account such factors as the type, size, and nature of its business operation. [82 FR 5791 (January 18, 2017)]

Section 255 tasks the Access Board, in conjunction with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), with the development and periodic review and update of guidelines for the accessibility of telecommunications equipment and customer premises equipment. The FCC, however, has exclusive authority under Section 255 to issue implementing regulations and carry out enforcement activities. When issuing implementing regulations, the FCC is not bound to adopt the Access Board’s guidelines as its own or to use them as minimum requirements. [82 FR 5791 (January 18, 2017)]

Rulemaking History 82 FR 5793-5797 (January 18, 2017)]

1998: The Access Board issued the initial Section 255 guidelines for telecommunications equipment and customer premises equipment.

2000: The Access Board published the initial Section 508 standards.

2006: The Access Board formed the Telecommunications and Electronic and Information Technology Advisory Committee to assist in the process of revising and updating the standards and guidelines.

2008: The Advisory Committee issued its final report to the Access Board.

2010: The Access Board issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking inviting public comment on an initial set of draft revisions to the standards and guidelines.

2011: The Access Board issued a Second Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, substantially revising the structure and organization of the draft rule.

2015: The Access Board formally commenced the rulemaking process by issuing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking updating the standards and guidelines.

Summary of Key Provisions

The revised 508 standards and 255 guidelines replace the current product-based regulatory approach with an approach based on ICT functions. The revised technical requirements, which are organized along the lines of ICT functionality, ensure that covered hardware, software, electronic content, and support documentation and services are accessible to people with disabilities. In addition, the revised requirements include functional performance criteria, which are outcome-based provisions that apply in two limited instances: when the technical requirements do not address one or more features of ICT, or when evaluation of an alternative design or technology is needed under equivalent facilitation (described below under E101.2). [82 FR 5791 (January 18, 2017)]

Key provisions and updates reflected in the revised 508 standards and 255 guidelines include:

  1. A new regulatory approach and format;
  2. Harmonization with international standards and broad application of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0;
  3. Delineation of electronic “content”;
  4. Expanded interoperability requirements; and
  5. Extended compliance dates and incorporation of “safe harbor” provision for Section 508-covered legacy ICT.

New Regulatory Approach and Format

Technological advances over the past two decades have resulted in the widespread use of multifunction devices, calling into question the ongoing utility of the product-by-product approach used in the Board’s existing 508 standards and 255 guidelines. Consequently, one of the primary purposes of the final rule is to replace the current product-based approach with requirements based on functionality, ensuring that accessibility for people with disabilities keeps pace with advances in ICT. [82 FR 5791 (January 18, 2017)]

To ensure that compliance under both laws, to the maximum extent possible, can be measured against a common set of technical requirements, the implementing regulations have been consolidated into a single part in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR): 36 CFR part 1194. Previously, the 255 guidelines were codified at 36 CFR, part 1193 and the 508 standards were codified at 36 CFR part 1194. The two sections in this part (§§ 1194.1 and 1194.2), in turn, direct readers to the four separate appendices (Appendices A–D) that set forth the scoping and technical requirements under Sections 508 and 255, respectively:

  • Appendix A applies only to Section 508-covered ICT and consists of two chapters: 508 Chapter 1, which includes general application and administration provisions, and 508 Chapter 2, which contains scoping requirements [E201.1] (which, in turn, prescribe which ICT must comply with the technical specifications).
  • Appendix B, which applies only to Section 255-covered ICT also has two chapters: 255 Chapter 1 sets forth general application and administration provisions and 255 Chapter 2 contains scoping requirements [C201.1].
  • Appendix C lists technical specifications that apply equally to ICT covered under either Section 508 or Section 255. It has five chapters: Chapter 3-Functional Performance Criteria; Chapter 4-Hardware; Chapter 5-Software; Chapter 6-Support Documentation and Services; and Chapter 7-Referenced Standards.
  • Appendix D includes the existing 508 standards (with a revised section numbering system).

Harmonization with International Standards—Broad Application of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0

From the outset, one of the Access Board’s primary goals in this rulemaking has been to increase harmonization with international ICT accessibility standards  developed  over the past decade. The revised 508 standards and 255 guidelines incorporate by reference the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, a globally-recognized and technologically-neutral set of accessibility guidelines for web content. For Section 508-covered ICT, all covered web and non-web content and software (including websites, intranets, word processing documents, portable document format documents, and project management software) is required, with a few specific exceptions, to conform to WCAG 2.0’s Level A and Level AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements. [82 FR 5791-5792 (January 18, 2017)]

By applying a single set of requirements to websites, electronic documents, and software, the revised requirements adapt the existing 508 standards to reflect the newer multifunction technologies (e.g., smartphones that have telecommunications functions, video cameras, and computer-like data processing capabilities) and address the accessibility challenges that these technologies pose for individuals with disabilities. For Section 255-covered ICT, electronic content and software that is integral to the use of telecommunications and customer premise equipment is required to conform to WCAG 2.0’s Level A and Level AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements. There are several exceptions related to non-web documents and software. [82 FR 5791 (January 18, 2017)]

Delineation of Covered Electronic “Content”

The revised 508 standards specify that all types of public-facing content (and nine categories of non-public-facing content that communicate agency official business) have to be accessible, with “content” encompassing all forms of electronic information and data. The existing standards require federal agencies to make electronic information and data accessible, but do not delineate clearly the scope of covered information and data. As a result, document accessibility has been inconsistent across federal agencies. The revised requirements bring needed clarity to the scope of electronic content covered by the Section 508 standards and, helping federal agencies make electronic content accessible more consistently. [82 FR 5792 (January 18, 2017)]

Expanded Interoperability Requirements

The existing standards require ICT to be compatible with assistive technology–that is, hardware or software that increases or maintains functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities (e.g., screen magnifiers or refreshable braille displays). However, in the past the existing requirement resulted in ambiguity. For example, some agencies interpreted the section of the existing rule that addresses software applications and operating systems as applicable to assistive technology itself. The ensuing confusion led, in some cases, to unnecessary delay in procurements intended to provide reasonable accommodations to federal employees with disabilities, creating a hardship for both the agencies and their employees. The final rule provides more specificity about how operating systems, software development toolkits, and software applications should interact with assistive technology. The final rule also specifically exempts assistive technology from the interoperability provisions. The Board expects the final rule to improve software interoperability with assistive technology, allowing users better access to the functionalities that ICT products provide. [82 FR 5792 (January 18, 2017)]

Extended Compliance Dates and Incorporation of “Safe Harbor” Provision for Section 508-Covered Legacy ICT

Federal agencies will have one year from publication of the final rule to comply with the revised 508 standards. This extended period for compliance is responsive to some agencies’ concerns about the time it will take them to meet the revised standards. [82 FR 5792 (January 18, 2017)]

In addition, the revised 508 standards include a “safe harbor” provision for existing (i.e., legacy) ICT. Under this safe harbor, unaltered, existing ICT (including content) that complies with the existing 508 standards need not be modified or upgraded to conform to the revised 508 standards. This safe harbor applies on an element-by-element basis in that each component or portion of existing ICT is assessed separately. Corresponding definitions have also been added for “existing ICT” and “alteration.” By doing this, incorporating a safe harbor for legacy ICT into the revised 508 standards provision, the Access Board is being responsive to agencies’ concerns about the potential resources required to remediate existing ICT, including agency websites or other public-facing legacy documents. Notably, the extended compliance date and safe harbor provision apply only to Section 508-covered ICT and do not apply to telecommunications equipment and customer premises equipment covered by Section 255. Compliance with the revised 255 guidelines is not required unless and until the FCC adopts them. [82 FR 5792 (January 18, 2017)]

In addition, it should be noted that the 2015 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposed to require that ICT providing real-time voice communication must support real-time text (RTT) functionality and ensure compatibility of multiline displays and features capable of text generation (proposed 410.6). In addition, the NPRM sought to ensure the interoperability of RTT across platforms. In April 2016, during the pendency of the Access Board’s ICT Rulemaking, the FCC published a NPRM seeking comment on proposals to replace the FCC rules requiring the support for TTY technology with rules requiring support for RTT technology. In December 2016, the FCC issued a report and order establishing rules to facilitate telecommunication service providers’ transition from TTY to RTT. As the FCC has issued this NPRM indicating its intent to regulate in this area, the Access Board decided that it would reserve the issue of RTT in the final rule to be addressed in a future rulemaking. The Access Board continues to monitor these proceedings and will update the Section 508 standards and Section 255 guidelines, as appropriate. [82 FR 5800 January 18, 2017)]

Relationship Between Sections 508, 501, and 504

The preamble to the final rule explains that “the Revised 508 Standards work in tandem with customized solutions developed as appropriate to accommodate the needs of individuals under Section 501 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.” [82 FR 5810 (January 18, 2017)]

The Access Board had previously stated that one of Section 508’s basic premises is that information and data must be accessible to all employees without special treatment or the necessity for individualized treatment. Making accessible ICT available only upon request would run counter to this basic premise. [80 FR at page 10888] The reasonable accommodations provisions of Section 501 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act supplement and do not supplant this basic premise of Section 508. The Access Board will address the continuing obligation of agencies to provide reasonable accommodations in additional guidance to be posted on the Access Board website in the future. [80 FR 10906; See also 80 FR 10894]

Section-by-Section Descriptions

Standards for Section 508 [36 CFR 1194.1]

The revised standards for ICT developed, procured, maintained, or used by federal agencies covered by Section 508 are set forth in Appendices A, C and D.

Guidelines for Section 255 [36 CFR 1194.2]

The revised guidelines for telecommunications equipment and customer premises equipment covered by Section 255 are set forth in Appendices B and C.

Appendix A (Section 508: Application and Scoping Requirements)

Chapter 1: Section 508 Application and Administration

E101 General

  • The purpose of the revised Section 508 standards is to provide scoping and technical requirements for ICT that is accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. [E101.1]
  • The revised Section 508 standards consist of Section 508 Chapters 1 and 2 (Appendix A, along with Chapters 3-7 of Appendix C). [E101.1]
  • Compliance with these requirements is mandatory for federal agencies subject to Section 508. [E101.1]
  • Agencies are permitted to use an alternative design or technology that results in substantially equivalent or greater accessibility and usability by individuals with disabilities than would be provided by conformance to one or more of the requirements in Chapters 4 and 5 of the Section 508 standards (equivalent facilitation). [E101.2]
  • The functional performance criteria in Chapter 3 (Appendix C) shall be used to determine whether substantially equivalent or greater accessibility and usability is provided to individuals with disabilities. [E101.2]

E102 Referenced Standards

  • The specific editions of the standards listed in Chapter 7 are incorporated by reference into Section 508 Chapter 2 (scoping requirements) and Chapters 3-6 to the prescribed extent of each reference. [E102.1]
  • Where conflicts occur between the revised Section 508 standards and the referenced standards, these Section 508 standards apply. [E102.1]
  • Among the standards incorporated by reference are World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (2008). [702.10.1]

E103 Definitions

The definitions include, but are not limited to:

Alteration

A change to existing ICT that affects interoperability, the user interface, or access to information or data.

Assistive Technology

Any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.

Closed Functionality

Characteristics that limit functionality or prevent a user from attaching or installing assistive technology. Examples of ICT with closed functionality include: self-service machines, information kiosks, set-top boxes, fax machines, calculators, and computers that are locked down so that users may not adjust settings due to a policy such as Desktop Core Configuration.

Information and Communication Technology

Information technology and other equipment, systems, technologies, or processes, for which the principal function is the creation, manipulation, storage, display, receipt, or transmission of electronic data and information, as well as any associated content. Examples include: computers and peripheral equipment, information kiosks and transaction machines; telecommunications equipment; customer premises equipment; multi-function office machines; software; applications; websites; videos; and electronic documents.

Existing ICT

ICT that has been procured, maintained, or used on or before January 18, 2018.

Public Facing Content

Content made available by an agency to members of the general public. Examples include an agency’s website, blog post, or social media pages.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)

A technology that provides real-time voice communications. VoIP requires a broadband connection from the user’s location and customer premises equipment compatible with Internet protocol.

Chapter 2: Scoping Requirements

E201 Application

Scope

ICT that is procured, developed, maintained, or used by federal agencies must conform to the revised Section 508 standards. [201.1]

E202 General Exceptions

General

ICT shall be exempt from compliance with the revised Section 508 standards to the extent specified in this section. [E202.1]

Legacy ICR

Any component or portion of existing ICT that complies with an earlier Section 508 Standard (see Appendix D), and that has not been altered on or after January 18, 2018, shall not be required to be modified to conform to the revised Section 508 standards. [E202.2]

NOTE: This provision, which the Access Board refers to as a “safe harbor” was added in response to some agencies’ concerns regarding the time and resources that might be needed to remediate existing (legacy) ICT. This safe harbor provision applies on an “element-by-element” basis in that each component or portion of existing ICT is assessed separately. This means, for example, that if two paragraphs of text are changed on an agency web page, only the altered paragraphs are required to comply with the revised Section 508 standards. The rest of the web page can remain “as is” so long as it is otherwise compliant with the existing Section 508 standards. [82 FR 5803 (January 18, 2017)] The safe harbor provision is applicable only to existing ICT covered by Section 508, and does not extend to Section 255-covered telecommunications equipment or customer premises equipment. [82 FR 5803 (January 18, 2017)]

National Security Systems

The revised Section 508 standards do not apply to ICT operated by agencies that are part of a national security system. [E202.3]

Federal Contracts

ICT acquired by a contractor incidental to a contract shall not be required to conform to the revised Section 508 standards. [E202.4]

ICT Functions Located in Maintenance or Monitoring Spaces

Status indicators and operable parts for ICT functions located in spaces that are frequented only by service personnel for maintenance, repair, or occasional monitoring of equipment are not required to conform to the Section 508 standards. [E202.5]

Undue Burden or Fundamental Alteration

Where an agency determines that conformance with the revised Section 508 standards would impose an undue burden or result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of the ICT, conformance is required only to the extent that it does not impose an undue burden, or result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of the ICT. [E202.6]

Basis for Determination

In determining whether conformance would impose an undue burden on the agency, the agency shall consider the extent to which conformance would impose significant difficulty or expense considering the agency resources available to the program or component for which the ICT is to be procured, developed, maintained, or used.

Required Documentation

The responsible agency official must document in writing the basis for determining that conformance to requirements constitutes an undue burden or would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of the ICT. The documentation must include an explanation of why and to what extent compliance with applicable requirements would create an undue burden or result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of the ICT. [E202.6.2]

Alternative Means

Where undue burden or fundamental alteration is determined to exist, the federal agency must provide individuals with disabilities access to and use of information and data by an alternative means that meets identified needs. [E202.6.3]

Best Meets

Where ICT conforming to one or more of the revised Section 508 standards is not commercially available, the federal agency must procure the ICT that best meets the revised Section 508 standards consistent with the agency’s business needs. [E202.7]

Required Documentation

The responsible agency official must document in writing the nonavailability of conforming ICT (including market research performed and which provisions cannot be met) and the basis for the determination that the ICT procured is consistent with the agency’s business needs. [E202.6.1]

Alternative Means

Where ICT that fully conforms with the revised Section 508 standards are not commercially available, the federal agency must provide individuals with disabilities access to and use of information and data by an alternative means that meets identified needs. [E202.6.2]

E203 Access to Functionality

General

Federal agencies must ensure that all functionality of ICT is accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, either directly or by supporting the use of assistive technology. [203.1]

In providing access to all functionality of ICT, federal agencies shall ensure the following:

  • Federal employees with disabilities have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access and use by federal employees who are not individuals with disabilities; and
  • Members of the public with disabilities who are seeking information or data from a federal agency have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access and use by members of the public who are not individuals with disabilities. [203.1]

Agency Business Needs

When federal agencies, procure, develop, maintain, or use ICT, they must identify the needs of users with disabilities to determine:

  • How users with disabilities will perform the functions supported by the ICT; and
  • How the ICT will be developed, installed, configured, and maintained to support users with disabilities. [E203.2]

E204 Functional Performance Criteria

Where the requirements in Chapters 4 and 5 do not address one or more functions of ICT, the functions not addressed must conform with the Functional Performance Criteria specified in Chapter 3. [E204.1]

E205 Content

Public Facing

Electronic content that is public facing must conform to the accessibility requirements specified in 205.4 [E205.2]

Agency Official Communication 

[E205.3] Electronic content that is not public facing must conform to the accessibility requirements specified in 205.4 when such content constitutes official business, and is communicated by an agency through one or more of the following:

  1. An emergency notification;
  2. An initial or final decision adjudicating an administrative claim or proceeding;
  3. An internal or external program or policy announcement;
  4. A notice of benefits, program eligibility, employment opportunity, or personnel action;
  5. A formal acknowledgement of receipt;
  6. A survey questionnaire;
  7. A template or form; 
  8. Educational or training materials; or
  9. Intranet content designed as a web page.
  • EXCEPTION: Records maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration in accordance with federal recordkeeping statutes.

Accessibility Standards

[E205.4] Electronic content must conform to level A and Level AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements specified for web pages in WCAG 2.0 [incorporated by reference, See 702.10.1]

  • EXCEPTION: Non-web documents shall not be required to conform to certain specified WCAG 2.0 Success Criteria.
  • WORD SUBSTITUTION: For non-web documents, wherever the term “web page” or “page” appears in WCAG 2.0 Level A and Level AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements, the term “document” should be substituted for the terms.

E206 Hardware.

Where components of ICT are hardware and transmit information or have a user interface, such components must conform to applicable requirements in Chapter 4.

E207 Software.

Where components of ICT are software and transmit information or have a user interface, such components must conform to E207 and applicable requirements in Chapter 5. [E207.1]

  • EXCEPTION: Software that is assistive technology and that supports the accessibility services of the platform are not required to conform to the requirements of Chapter 5.

User interface components, and the content of platforms and applications, must conform to Level A and Level AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements specified in WCAG 2.0 (incorporated by reference, See 702.10.1). [E207.2]

  • EXCEPTION: Software that is assistive technology and that supports the accessibility services of the platform are not required to conform to E207.2.

Where non-web software requires multiple steps to accomplish an activity, all software related to the activity to be accomplished must conform to WCAG 2.0, as specified in E2017.2. [E207.3]

  • EXCEPTION: Non-web software is not required to conform to certain specified success criteria in WCAG 2.0.
  • WORD SUBSTITUTION: For non-web documents, wherever the term “web page” or “page” appears in WCAG 2.0 Level A and Level AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements, the term “document” should be substituted for the terms.

E208 Support Documentation and Services.

  • Where a federal agency provides support documentation or services for ICT, such documentation and services must conform to the requirements of Chapter 6.

Appendix B (Section 255: Application and Scoping Requirements)

255 Chapter 1: Application and Administration

C101 General

  • The revised Section 255 guidelines contain scoping and technical requirements for the design, development, and fabrication of telecommunications equipment and customer premises equipment, content, and support documentation and services to ensure their accessibility and usability by individuals with disabilities. [C101.1]
  • The revised Section 255 guidelines consist of Section 255 Chapters 1 and 2 (Appendix B) along with Chapters 3 through 6 of Appendix C. [C101.1]
  • These revised Section 255 guidelines are to be applied to the extent required by regulations issued by the Federal Communications Commission under Section 255 of the Communications Act. [C101.1]
  • Agencies are permitted to use an alternative design or technology that results in substantially equivalent or greater accessibility and usability by individuals with disabilities than would be provided by conformance to one or more of the requirements in Chapters 4 and 5 of the revised Section 255 guidelines (equivalent facilitation). [C101.2]
  • The functional performance criteria in Chapter 3 (Appendix C) shall be used to determine substantially equivalent or greater accessibility and usability is provided to individuals with disabilities. [C101.2]

C102 Referenced Standards

  • The specific editions of the standards listed in Chapter 7 are incorporated by reference into the Section 255 Chapter 2 scoping requirements and Chapters 3-6 to the prescribed extent of each reference. [C102.1]
  • Where conflicts occur between the revised Section 255 guidelines and the referenced standards, these revised Section 255 guidelines apply. [C102.1]
  • Among the guidelines incorporated by reference are the World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. [See 702.10.1]

C103 Definitions

The definitions include, but are not limited to:

Assistive Technology

Any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.

Closed Functionality

Characteristics that limit functionality or prevent a user from attaching or installing assistive technology.

Customer Premises Equipment

Equipment used on the premises of a person (other than a carrier) to originate, route, or terminate telecommunications or interconnected VoIP service, including software integral to the operation of telecommunications function of such equipment. Examples include telephones, routers, switches, residential gateways, set-top boxes, fixed mobile convergence products, home networking adaptors, and Internet access gateways which enable consumers to access communication services providers’ services and distribute them around their house via a Local Access Network.

Information and Communication Technology

Information technology and other equipment, systems, technologies, or processes, for which the principal function is the creation, manipulation, storage, display, receipt, or transmission of electronic data and information, as well as any associated content.

Specialized Customer Premises Equipment

Assistive technology used by individuals with disabilities to originate, route, or terminate telecommunications or interconnected VoIP service. Examples include TTYs and amplified telephones.

Telecommunications Equipment

Equipment, other than customer premises equipment, used by a carrier to provide telecommunications service or interconnected VoIP service, and includes software integral to the operation of telecommunication function of such equipment.

Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP)

A technology that provides real-time voice communications. VoIP requires a broadband connection from the user’s location and customer premises equipment compatible with Internet protocol.

255 Chapter 2: Scoping Requirements

C201 Application

Scope

Manufacturers of telecommunication equipment must comply with the requirements in the revised Section 255 guidelines applicable to telecommunications equipment and customer premises equipment (and related software integral to the operation of telecommunications functions) when newly released, upgraded, or substantially changed from an earlier version or model. [C201.1]

Such manufacturers shall also conform to the requirement in the revised Section 255 guidelines for support documentation and services, including electronic documents and web-based product supports. [C101.1]

Readily Achievable

When a manufacturer determines conformance to one or more requirements in Chapter 4 (Hardware) or Chapter 5 (Software) would not be readily achievable, it must ensure that the equipment or software is compatible with existing peripheral devices or specialized customer premises equipment commonly used by individuals with disabilities to the extent readily achievable. [C201.2]

Access to Functionality

Manufacturers must ensure that telecommunications equipment and customer premises equipment is accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities by providing direct access to all telecommunications functionality. Where such manufacturers can demonstrate that it is not readily achievable for such equipment to provide direct access to all functionality, the equipment must support the use of assistive technology and specialized customer premises equipment where readily achievable. [C201.3]

Prohibited Reductions of Accessibility, Usability, and Compatibility

No change shall be undertaken that decreases, or has the effect of decreasing, the net accessibility, usability, or compatibility of telecommunications equipment or customer premises equipment. Discontinuation of a product shall not be prohibited. [C201.4]

Design, Development, and Fabrication

Manufacturers must evaluate the accessibility, usability, and interoperability of telecommunications equipment and customer premises equipment during the product design, development, and fabrication. [C201.5]

C202 Functional Performance Criteria

Where the requirements in Chapters 4 and 5 (Appendix C) do not address one or more functions of telecommunications or customer premises equipment, the functions not addressed must conform to the Functional Performance Criteria in Chapter 3 (Appendix C). [C202]

C203 Electronic Content

Electronic content integral to the use of telecommunications or customer premises equipment must conform to Level A and Level AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements in WCAG 2.0 [incorporated by reference, See 702.10.1]

  • EXCEPTION: Non-web documents are not required to conform to certain specified conformance requirements in WCAG 2.0.
  • WORD SUBSTITUTION: For non-web documents, wherever the term “web page” or “page” appears in WCAG 2.0 Level A and Level AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements, the term “document” should be substituted for the terms.

C204 Hardware

Where components of telecommunications equipment and customer premises equipment are hardware, and transmit information or have a user interface, those components must conform to applicable requirements in Chapter 4 (Appendix C) with certain specified exceptions.

 C205 Software

Where software is integral to the use of telecommunications functions of telecommunications equipment or customer premises equipment, and has a user interface, such software must conform to C205 and applicable requirements in Chapter 5 (Appendix C). [C205.1]

  • EXCEPTION: Software that is assistive technology and that supports the accessibility services of the platform is not required to conform to the requirements in Chapter 5.

User interface components, as well as the content of platforms and applications, must conform to Level A and Level AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements specified in WCAG 2.0 [incorporated by reference, See 702.10.1]. [C205.2]

  • EXCEPTION: Software that is assistive technology and that supports the accessibility services of the platform are not required to conform to C205.2.5.
  • EXCEPTION: Non-web software is not required to conform to certain specified success criteria in WCAG 2.0.
  • WORD SUBSTITUTION: For non-web documents, wherever the term “web page” or “page” appears in WCAG 2.0 Level A and Level AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements, the term “document” should be substituted for the terms.

Where non-web software requires multiple steps to accomplish an activity, all software related to the activity to be accomplished must conform to WCAG 2.0, as specified in C205.2. [C205.3]

C206 Support Documentation and Services

Where support documentation and services are provided for telecommunications equipment and customer premises equipment, manufacturers must provide such documentation and services in conformance with Chapter 6 (Appendix C) upon request and at no additional charge.

Appendix C (Functional Performance Criteria and Technical Requirements)

Chapter 3: Functional Performance Criteria

Scope

The requirements of Chapter 3 apply to ICT where required by Section 508 (Chapter 2, Scoping Requirements) and Section 255 (Chapter 2, Scoping Requirements) and where referenced in any other chapter of the revised Section 508 standards or revised Section 255 guidelines. [301.1]

Functional Performance Criteria [302]

Without Vision

Where a visual mode of operation is provided, ICT must provide at least one mode of operation that does not require user vision. [302.1]

With Limited Vision

Where a visual mode of operation is provided, ICT must provide at least one mode of operation that enables users to make use of limited vision. [302.2]

Without Perception of Color

Where a visual mode of operation is provided, ICT shall provide at least one visual mode of operation that does not require user perception of color. [302.3]

Without Hearing

Where an audible mode of operation is provided, ICT must provide at least one mode of operation that does not require user hearing. [302.4]

With Limited Hearing

Where an audible mode of operation is provided, ICT must provide at least one mode of operation that enables users to make use of limited hearing. [302.5]

Without Speech

Where speech is used for input, control, or operation, ICT must provide at least one mode of operation that does not require user speech. [302.6]

With Limited Manipulation

Where a manual mode of operation is provided, ICT must provide at least one mode of operation that does not require fine motor control or simultaneous manual operations. [302.7]

With Limited Reach and Strength

Where a manual mode of operation is provided, ICT must provide at least one mode of operation that is operable with limited reach and limited strength. [302.8]

With Limited Language, Cognitive, and Learning Abilities

ICT must provide features making its use by individuals with limited cognitive, language, and learning abilities simpler and easier. [302.9]

Chapter 4: Hardware

In General

The requirements of Chapter 4 apply to ICT that is hardware where required by Section 508 Chapter 2 (Scoping Requirements), Section 255 Chapter 2 (Scoping Requirements), and where referenced in any other chapter of the revised Section 508 standards or revised Section 255 guidelines. [401.1]

Exception of Assistive Technology

Hardware that is assistive technology shall not be required to conform to the requirements of this chapter. [401.1]

Closed Functionality

Except for personal headsets and other audio couplers, closed functionality of ICT shall be operable without requiring the user to attach or install assistive technology and shall conform to 402. [402.1]

  • Speech Output Enabled. [402.2]
  • Volume. [402.3]
  • Characters on Display Screen. [402.4]
  • Characters on Variable Message Signs. [402.5]

Biometrics. [403]

Preservation of Information Provided for Accessibility. [404]

Privacy. [405]

Standard Connections. [406]

Operable Parts. [407]

Display Screens. [408]

Status Indicators. [409]

Color Coding. [410]

Audible Signals. [411]

ICT with Two-Way Voice Communications. [412]

Closed Caption Processing Technology. [413]

Audio Description Processing Technologies. [414]

User Controls for Captions and Audio Descriptions. [415]

Chapter 5 Software

Scope

The requirements of Chapter 5 apply to software where required by Section 508, Chapter 2 (Scoping Requirements) and Section 255, Chapter 2 (Scoping Requirements), and where referenced in any other chapter of the revised Section 508 standards or the revised Section 255 guidelines. [501.1]

Exception

Where web applications do not have access to platform accessibility services, and do not include components that have access to platform accessibility services, they shall not be required to conform to Section 502 or 503 provided that they conform to Level A and Level AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements in WCAG 2.0 [incorporated by reference, See 702.10.1]. [501.1]

Interoperability with Assistive Technology

Software shall interoperate with assistive technology and shall conform to 502. [502.1]

  • EXCEPTION: ICT conforming to 402 shall not be required to conform to 502.

Applications [503]

Authoring Tools

Authoring tools shall provide a mode of operation to create or edit content that conforms to Level A and Level AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements in WCAG 2.0 [incorporated by reference, See 702,19.1] for all supported features and, as applicable, to file formats supported by the authoring tool. Authoring tools must permit the option of overriding information required for accessibility. [504]

Chapter 6: Support Documentation and Services

Scope

The technical requirements in Chapter 6 shall apply to ICT support documentation and services where required by Section 508, Chapter 2 (Scoping Requirements), Section 255, Chapter 2 (Scoping Requirements), and where otherwise referenced in any other chapter of the Section 508 standards or the Section 255 guidelines. [601.1]

Support Documentation

Documentation in electronic format, including web-based self-service support, shall conform to Level A and Level AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements in WCAG 2.0 [incorporated by reference, See 702.10.1]. [602]

Support Services [603]

Appendix D (Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards as Originally Published on December 21, 2000)

Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards as Originally Published on December 21, 2000 [page 3]

Conclusion

This policy brief summarized the most significant revisions and updates to the Section 508-based standards and the Section 255-based guidelines included in the Information and Communication Technology Standards and Guidelines Final rule. These standards and guidelines are intended to ensure that information and communication technology covered by the respective statutes is accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.

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