“All Americans are entitled to an accessible workplace, a level playing field, and the same privileges, pursuits, and opportunities as any of their family, friends, and neighbors.”
President Barack Obama, October 1, 2012
The NIH Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) is responsible for the oversight of the Section 508 program at NIH. “Section 508” refers to an amendment that was added to an existing law -- the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 – that requires all electronic and information technology (EIT) that is developed, procured, maintained, or used by the Federal government be accessible to people with disabilities.
Technology that is “accessible" can be used as effectively by persons with disabilities as by those without. Inaccessible technology interferes with a person’s ability to obtain and use information quickly and easily. Section 508 was enacted to eliminate such barriers, to make available new opportunities for people with disabilities, and to encourage development of technologies that will help achieve these goals.
Section 508 covers both Federal employees and members of the public that are disabled. It ensures that all disabled individuals can obtain and use information, data or services from a Federal department or agency that is comparable to information, data or services that can be obtained and used by non-disabled individuals, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the department or agency.
While Section 508 focuses on the overall accessibility to EIT, it does not focus on providing accessible products or services at individual federal worksites. For example, assistive technology, such as special telephones or computer keyboards, which are considered ‘reasonable accommodations’ under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The oversight responsibility for Section 504 (reasonable accommodations) and 501 (discrimination of employment in the Federal sector against individuals with disabilities) activities and the associated complaints process are under the direct purview of the NIH Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI).
The six major areas of EIT that are covered by Section 508 are:
- Software applications and operating systems
- Web-based intranet and internet information and systems
- Telecommunication products
- Video and multimedia products
- Self-contained, closed-products
- Desktop and portable computer
The effectiveness of the NIH Section 508 program is highly dependent on the collaboration with, and efforts of, other program and functional experts in the NIH community as discussed below:
Each NIH IC has a designated Section 508 Coordinator to represent their respective IC in the NIH-wide Section 508 effort. The Coordinator is a senior staff person in the IC with access to senior IC officials to assure proper coordination across the IC entities with a capacity to ensure effective Section 508 implementation within their IC. The Coordinator is the liaison to the OCIO on issues involving high level policy decisions, reporting, and coordinating on other NIH Section-508 related projects.
The Section 508 Advisory Group was established in 2009 to support the NIH OCIO in its leadership role for Section 508. The Advisory Group provides advice and recommendations to the OCIO on a multitude of Section 508 issues including avenues for implementing Section 508 at NIH. The Advisory Group also shares information and Best Practices on Section 508 implementation and EIT accessibility from their respective groups and organizations.