Striving for a Standard

Frances West, Director of IBM’s Worldwide Accessibility Center, has written an interesting piece about the possible divergence in standards for the accessibility of web content between the US and European governments. She makes the excellent observation that:

“Without a harmonized approach to procuring information technology, each government could adopt a different technical standard. If various governments mandate different regional or country technical requirements, industry will be forced to focus on multiple compliance efforts, rather than pushing beyond compliance and investing in new technology and solutions.”

I can’t help but wonder if some level of divergence doesn’t already exist within the US between the federal and state governments. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 sets IT accessibility standards for federal government entities, but its applicability to state governments is somewhat murky. Many states have embraced the guidelines established as part of the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). While these two sets of standards are similar, they are not the same.

The State of New York – IBM’s home state, which I would argue is a sufficiently large enough procurer of IT goods and services to have an impact on the industry – goes by the WAI standards.

Ms. West’s points are well taken and it seems fairly obvious that if Section 508 does, in fact, apply to state governments in the US someone ought to tell them. If industry is saddled with having to engineer solutions to meet multiple sets of accessibility standards, it could mean time taken away from work on new solutions to make web content and services more accessible.

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