In 1998 President Clinton signed into law the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 which includes the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments REQUIRES “that when Federal agencies develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology they shall ensure that the electronic and information technology allows Federal employees with disabilities to have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access to and use of information and data by Federal employees who are not individuals with disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the agency.”Breaking that down, it simply says there are two standards that must be comparable to the non-disabled experience: 1. Access to information. 2. Use of information.
Almost all agencies have “checked the compliance box” addressing the first standard regarding accessible content and now new technology is available that addresses the “comparable use of information” standard. Webster defines comparable as “capable or suitable for comparison.” To illustrate this point, SharePoint, Microsoft’s largest selling collaborative platform is prolific within Federal agencies. If you spend any time with vision impaired and sighted SharePoint workers, you will quickly notice that the “comparable use of information” standard is not met by SharePoint OOTB.
Vision impaired workers are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to conducting typical, collaborative, daily tasks necessary to be as productive as sighted workers. Using the calendar for scheduling, creating and modifying lists and forms and even conducting searches for information all require significantly more effort and time than sighted workers, which causes them to be less productive. The mission behind Section 508 was ensuring that Federal agencies did their best to provide disabled workers an opportunity to become as productive as their sighted coworkers. One piece of that puzzle is making documents accessible and great strides have been made there. Now Discover Technologies, working with various Federal agencies is making great strides in meeting the comparable use of information standard with the Discover Access for SharePoint™ tool. The mandate is clear, use of information and access to information are equally important in order to be in compliance with section 508. Agencies using SharePoint, who currently only comply with one half of the standard now have an opportunity to fully comply with Section 508.