The following blog post was written by Laura Ruby - Director of Accessibility Policy and Standards at Microsoft. She has worked in this area of the technology sector for more than 22 years.
After years of study and deliberation, European standards bodies have released technical requirements for public procurement of information and communication technology (ICT) that can be a model for governments and organizations around the world of how to evaluate accessibility when buying information technology.
Today, the new standard is the most comprehensive and up-to-date accessible technology procurement criteria in the world. The standard, EN 301 549, was developed with the support of experts, advocates and information technology companies. It also was informed by work to update U.S. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 508 requires the government to consider accessibility when buying any information technology and has been the global go-to accessibility standard for procurement during the last decade
In the United States, the Access Board has just officially proposed a rule that would update Section 508 standards. Once the Office of Management and Budget reviews the proposal the public will be able to comment on the plan. After the Access Board reviews those comments, it will issue an updated standard.
The technology industry has been working collaboratively with the U.S. Access Board, European Commission, other governments and organizations to promote procurement standards that are aligned and harmonized. The Access Board should be recognized for providing a blueprint for a globally uniform ICT accessibility procurement criteria. If the U.S. and other countries create criteria that are identical to the new European standard, it would be easier for the IT industry to build once and sell everywhere. This would benefit consumers, businesses and governments.
If the U.S. and other nations, however, each create different accessibility standards, the IT industry would have to build products that comply with multiple standards. Engineers would have to make the same product meet competing standards, increasing the cost of development and ultimately the prices of devices and services.
The United States, European Union and nations around the world have a long-awaited opportunity to adopt uniform IT accessibility procurement standards and benefit consumers and businesses everywhere. Let’s seize it and make technology more accessible.