Government Contracts Proposed FAR Rule Adopts Section 508 IT Accessibility Standards
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Thursday, April 30, 2020

Proposed FAR Rule Adopts Section 508 IT Accessibility Standards

By PGovernment Contracts Editorial Staff

The Department of Defense, General Services Administration, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration are proposing to amend the Federal Acquisition Regulation to incorporate recent revisions and updates to accessibility standards issued by the Access Board pursuant to section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 USC 794d). Section 508 requires agencies to “develop, procure, maintain, or use” government-provided information and communication technology in a manner that ensures that federal employees with disabilities have comparable access to, and use of, the information and data relative to other federal employees. Section 508 also requires agencies to ensure that members of the public with disabilities have comparable access to publicly available information and data. The Access Board, also known as the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, issues accessibility standards for ICT covered under section 508. A 2017 final rule (82 FR 5790) refreshed the Board’s section 508 accessibility standards to address advances in ICT and incorporate standards developed by outside organizations.

Compliance Required. The proposed rule would amend the FAR to ensure that the updated standards are appropriately considered in ICT acquisitions. Under revised FAR Subpart 39.2, acquisitions for ICT supplies and services would have to meet the Board’s ICT accessibility standards at 36 CFR 1194.1, unless an exception at revised FAR 39.204 or an exemption at proposed FAR 39.205 applies. A proposed change to FAR 39.203 adds a “safe harbor” provision for existing ICT, which considers legacy ICT in existence on or before January 18, 2018, to be compliant if it meets the earlier standard issued pursuant to section 508 and the legacy ICT is not altered after January 18, 2018. According to the rule, this “untouched” ICT does not need to be modified or upgraded to conform to the revised 508 standards as long as it already conforms to the original 508 standards. However, ICT acquired on or before January 18, 2018, will need to be upgraded or modified to conform to the new standard if the ICT is altered after January 18, 2018, or does not comply with the original 508 standards. In addition, ICT acquired after January 18, 2018, must be upgraded or modified to conform to the new standard. This direction will be included in requirements documents issued by the agency. Comments on the proposed rule, referencing FAR Case 2017-011, are due June 1, 2020. See ¶70,006.350 for the text of the rule.

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