Your parks and rec department is committed to offering equitable access to activities and resources in your community for all citizens, regardless of their age or physical ability. Your staff works hard all year to ensure all facilities are compliant with requirements of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) and remain in safe, full operational order. However, what about your digital operations?
Not only are public entities required to meet safety and accessibility requirements as they pertain to public spaces and municipal property, but they are also required to ensure all digital communications, including parks and rec websites, emails, online catalogs, and PDFs, comply with accessibility requirements. It is essential to understand all the digital communication compliance elements that face parks and rec departments so that every citizen has equitable access to both resources and information.
Background: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 508
The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 generally require that state and local governments provide qualified individuals with disabilities equal access to their programs, services, or activities unless doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of their programs, services, or activities, or would impose an undue burden. Section 508 of the ADA includes a requirement that public entities ensure all digital content is accessible by citizens with visual, auditory, and other physical limitations and disabilities.
Section 508 Standards were created by The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) and were first published in 2000 in the Federal Register. These Standards apply to electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained or used by federal agencies. They contain technical criteria specific to various types of technologies and performance-based requirements, which focus on functional capabilities of covered products. It is important to note that Section 508 Standards apply not only to web page content, but to posted content such as PDF documents, and audio and video content. Such rules ensure that all web content, regardless of the medium, are accessible by all citizens.
Recent Updates to Section 508
The Access Board has revised and updated its standards for electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by Federal agencies covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The revisions and updates are intended to ensure that information and communication technology covered by the respective statutes is accessible to and usable by, individuals with disabilities. Compliance with the Section 508-based standards was required effective January 18, 2018.
The latest changes to Sections 508 include:
- A restructuring of the section provisions by functionality instead of product type due to the increasingly multi-functional capabilities of information and communication technology (ICT).
- Incorporating the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 by reference and applying Level A and Level AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements to websites, as well as to non-web electronic documents and software.
- Specifying the types of non-public facing electronic content that must comply; requiring that operating systems provide specific accessibility features.
- Clarifying that software and operating systems must interoperate with assistive technology (such as screen magnification software and refreshable braille displays).
- Addressing access for people with cognitive, language, and learning disabilities.
- Harmonizing the requirements with international standards.
Civic Tip: The requirements apply not only to websites, but to digital content. Learn the benefits of converting your printed activity guide to digital.
WCAG. Former Recommendations, Now Requirements.
The final rule incorporates many voluntary consensus standards, including WCAG 2.0. Issued by the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative, WCAG 2.0 is a globally recognized, technology-neutral standard for web content. It is a stable, referenceable technical standard for government website designers.
Like the original 508 Standards, the latest updates apply to a federal agency’s full range of public-facing content. This requirement means the rules will impact your parks and rec department website, online registration system, digital catalog and associated activity documents, digital media, blog posts and online articles, and social media content. The rule also specifies that the following types of non-public-facing material must comply with the latest requirements:
- Internal or external program or policy announcements.
- Employment opportunities or personnel actions.
- Formal acknowledgments or receipts.
- Questionnaires or surveys.
- Templates or forms.
- Educational or training materials.
- Web-based intranets.
Penalties for Non-Compliance and Safe Harbors
Local governments that fail to comply with 508 Standards could face a financial penalty. However, there is still time to comply. The Rehabilitation Act gives the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council (FAR Council) and federal agencies up to six months to incorporate the updated 508 Standards into their acquisition regulations and procurement policies and directives. It will be up to the FAR Council to establish the date by which new and existing procurements for information communication technology covered by Section 508 must meet the updated standards. Both federal agencies and contractors must comply with updated 508 standards that impact all other non-procured information communication technology, beginning on January 18, 2018.
The revised Section 508 Standards do include a “safe harbor” provision. The provision states that unaltered, existing information and communication technology (including content) that complies with the existing 508 Standards need not be modified or upgraded to conform to the Revised 508 standards. The safe harbor exemption evaluates each component of existing information communication technology on an individual basis. Local governments must understand, however, that once digital content is updated or altered, the safe harbor provision no longer applies, and the website must comply with all regulations outlined in Section 508.
For more information on WCAG 2.0 compliance. click below to download our ADA website compliance checklist.