Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments specifically lays out the requirement that Federal employees with disabilities have both accessibility and usability of information and data that is comparable to Federal Employees without disabilities. Almost all agencies have taken care of fifty percent of the requirement by making data and websites accessible. We have yet to discover an agency outside of FDA that has addressed usability to any real extent, yet they all believe erroneously that they are in compliance with the Section 508 mandate.
This is analogous to buying someone a new car, locking it and not giving them the keys. It’s not much good if you can’t use it. Now, is the time for these agencies to take steps to fully comply with Section 508 by addressing usability. Microsoft’s most successful enterprise class software is SharePoint, a collaborative platform that is prevalent throughout the Federal space. Check with any sight disadvantaged SharePoint worker and you will hear that SharePoint is unusable out of the box. Due to the lack of usability, it is not possible for vision impaired SharePoint workers to become as productive as their sighted coworkers. This is clearly a violation of the Section 508 mandate, which specifically calls for “comparable usability of information and data.”
Necessary collaborative functions like working with lists, forms and interacting with the calendar regarding events are extremely difficult if not impossible for sight impaired workers to perform. The best way to correct this usability problem is to modify the SharePoint navigation architecture and provide the vision impaired with a greatly simplified well thought out navigation system. The solution exists. The issue is the lack of understanding that there are two tenants of Section 508 and providing for both is what is mandated. Until the good people within The Department Of Justice tasked with Section 508 enforcement take a closer look at the text within section 508 regarding “comparable usability,” Federal, vision impaired SharePoint workers will continue to be disadvantaged.
It’s time to spread the word by sparking conversation and debate around usability, the forgotten half of the Section 508 mandate.