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Advisory Report Released on Update of Federal Accessibility Standards

On April 3, 2008, the Telecommunications and Electronic & Information Technology Advisory Committee (TEITAC) issued its final report to the U.S. Access Board. Trace Center Director Gregg Vanderheiden served as a member of the TEITAC, co-chairing the Subcommittee on General Interface Accessibility. The Trace Center contributed technical expertise and participated on six of the nine subcommittees.

The TEITAC report details recommended changes to both the substance and the structure of the standards and guidelines. Products covered include technologies used for communication, computing, storage, duplication, and production, among others. Access is addressed for all types of disabilities, including those that are sensory, physical, speech-related, or cognitive in nature.

TEITAC US Access Board LogoOrganized by the Access Board in July 2006, the TEITAC was comprised of 41 members, including representatives from industry, disability, groups, standard-setting bodies in the U.S. and abroad, and government agencies. The process included regular meetings, both in person and via teleconference, and inclusion of a broader group of stakeholders through Web-based communication tools (Wiki and discussion lists).

Trace Center Contributions

The Trace Center was in a unique position to contribute to the work of the TEITAC due to its 37 years of research and development related to accessibility of information and communication technologies. Trace also participated on and supported the advisory committees that drafted the previous guidelines related to Section 255 (resulting in current FCC rules for telecommunications accessibility) and Section 508 (governing federal purchase of electronic and information products).

The Trace Center developed two key tools to facilitate the work of the TEITAC. The Trace Online Hand-Raising Utility (TOHRU) provided a cross-disability accessible mechanism for allowing participants in the TEITAC teleconferences to more easily participate, including those using captioning.

A second tool, the Trace Center Filter Tool, provided a means for TEITAC participants and stakeholders to easily compare the TEITAC provisions under development with provisions from other US and international standards. It also allows users to filter the provisions in order to view only those relating to a specified technology. (Both tools will be made available publicly in the near future.)

Support for the Trace Center's work related to TEITAC was provided by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), U.S. Department of Education, grants H133E030012 and H133E040013.

Report Recommendations

The TEITAC report puts forth a revised set of performance criteria that describe access capabilities for products generally. The committee organized these provisions to serve as a framework for technical specifications that have been updated to address hardware, user interfaces and electronic content, audio-visual players, displays, and content, real-time voice communication, and authoring tools. These provisions are organized by product features or capabilities rather than product types (as in the current Section 508 standards).

The recommendations contain advisory and background information on the performance and technical provisions, including references to related standards, and update defined terms and provisions covering documentation, support, and maintenance. The report also advises the Access Board on considerations for future updates, supplementary guidance materials and tools, compliance testing, and further research.

"We firmly believe that the recommendations of this report will lead to new versions of the standards and guidelines that comprehensively cover accessibility in a dynamic and innovative marketplace," stated TEITAC co-chair Mike Paciello. Co-chair Jim Tobias concurred, noting that "this committee, through the incredible range of expertise and talent it enlisted, indeed rose to the challenge and was not shy in confronting a host of complex issues before it."

Next Steps

The Access Board will propose updates to the current Section 508 standards and telecommunications guidelines based on its review of the TEITAC report. The Board’s proposal will be made available for public comment.

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