Microsoft Actively Supports Section 508
When Congress voted to strengthen Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act in 1998, people with disabilities nationwide began to realize two valuable goals.
First, Section 508 now requires all federal agencies to ensure that electronic or information technology they develop, procure, maintain or use is accessible to people with disabilities, whether they are federal employees or members of the public. A technology's accessibility is measured by how well it conforms to standards developed by the U.S. Access Board and published in the Federal Register on December 21, 2000.
Second, Section 508 creates a strong incentive for technology companies to build more and better accessibility features into their products. Although Section 508 neither regulates the technology industry nor requires private companies to alter their products, it does establish strict accessibility standards that any technology must strive to meet before the federal government can consider purchasing it. Therefore, a technology company that wants to do business with the federal government—one of the world's largest markets for technology—must make accessibility a priority.
At Microsoft, we believe Section 508 is good for everyone: government, industry, and people with disabilities. By using Section 508 to highlight the value of accessible technology to employees and constituents, the federal government is encouraging industry to compete more vigorously to develop innovative technologies that are accessible to all users. Many state governments and universities are following the federal example, adopting procurement policies that require technology to be accessible. These changes are creating new education and career opportunities for the millions of people with disabilities in the United States.
Microsoft is fully engaged in Section 508, working closely with federal information technology (IT) managers and industry leaders to help government agencies comply with the new policy and providing tools other companies need to develop accessible technologies that meet the federal standards.
Internally, Microsoft has implemented a rigorous process to ensure that our product teams consider Section 508 standards at each stage of design and development for every new Microsoft product, and that those technologies are tested against each of the federal standards. And because Microsoft builds only one version of our products—rather than separate versions for government, business and home users—new accessibility features that are added because of Section 508 will benefit all users, not only federal employees.
After evaluating a product, Microsoft completes a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT), an informational tool developed by industry and government to assist federal IT professionals with the market research duties they are required to perform under Section 508. The VPAT describes precisely how a product does and does not meet Section 508 standards. Microsoft then posts the VPAT on our corporate website, providing both government officials and consumers easy access to the information.
Section 508 complements and reinforces the work Microsoft is already doing to make technology universally accessible. Our commitment to accessibility began in July 1995, when we adopted a corporate policy making it the responsibility of every Microsoft employee to ensure all users have access to our products and services. Read more about Microsoft's accessibility mission, strategy, and progress.
At Microsoft, we are proud of our public-private partnership with the federal government to make sure all users have access to technology, and we encourage consumers to learn more about Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Like government itself, government policies work best when the people they are intended to serve take an active interest and get involved.