The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is seeking public comments on their proposed updates to Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act.
What's Section 501, and how does it relate to employment?
Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act is a federal law that (1) requires federal agencies to implement and maintain an affirmative action program for hiring and promoting people with disabilities and (2) prohibits discrimination based on disability in all aspects of federal employment. In February, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to update the Section 501 rules, and it's looking for comments from the public.
What does Section 501 have to do with technology?
Given that the federal government is the largest employer in the U.S. and that federal agencies are a major purchaser of technology, these proposed changes—and their implications for the IT industry and for technology users who are potential job applicants and/or current federal employees—are significant. Section 501 follows the nondiscrimination standards detailed in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Based on the ADA, there have been numerous legal settlement agreements in the last few years between the U.S. Department of Justice and employers who agreed to make their websites, online applications, and mobile applications accessible to and usable by applicants and employees with disabilities in accordance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 standards.
What could Section 501 do to support the advancement of accessible technology in federal workplaces?
- Clarify that Section 501 requires employers to make their websites, online systems, mobile applications, and other information and communications technology (ICT) systems accessible to and usable by applicants and employees with disabilities in accordance with WCAG 2.0.
- Clarify that an individual with a disability may file an employment discrimination complaint under Section 501 with respect to the hiring, advancement, or other conditions of employment because of the inaccessibility of websites, online systems, mobile applications, and/or other ICT systems.
- Clarify that under Section 501 even if a federal agency meets the ICT accessibility standards, they must still provide technology as a reasonable accommodation on a case-by-case basis to ensure that the information and data is usable by the particular individual requesting the accommodation.
How can I share my comments?
You can submit comments online—it’s easy! Your comments can be on any aspect of the proposed rule, including accessible ICT, and you don’t have to discuss the whole regulation. Go to https://www.regulations.gov/index.jsp#!documentDetail;D=EEOC-2014-0004-0091 and click "Comment Now" for Regulatory Information Number (RIN) 3046-AA94. The deadline to submit your comments is April 25, 2016—and that’s all there is to it!
I'm a serious policy wonk and would like more details. Do you have more info?
Yes, of course!
- PEAT has prepared a policy brief that describes in detail how the proposed Section 501 nondiscrimination and affirmative action plan provisions affect and/or relate to access to websites, online application systems, mobile applications, and other forms of accessible ICT in federal employment.
- The Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) has a policy brief on all aspects of the rule at http://askearn.org/exchange/new-policy-brief-translates-nprm-on-affirmative-action-for-people-with-disabilities-in-the-federal-government-section-501/.