Industry trade association CompTIA anticipates that Section 508 could trickle down over "the next couple of years" from the federal government to state and local agencies and non-profit agencies that receive large grants, the group said.
Section 508, part of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998, ensures that all IT products purchased by federal government agencies meet a minimum level of accessibility, particularly for the disabled. Section 508 affects vendors, distributors and solution providers, and covers the purchases of computers, software, networks, peripherals and more, said CompTIA officials.
The industry trade group reviewed Section 508 regulations with government solution providers at Ingram Micro's Partnership America conference here last week.
"The rules and regulations apply to everything," said Thomas Santaniello, public policy manager at CompTIA. "Any [federal purchasing agent that's buying goods and services today must make sure they are Section 508 compliant."
The situation is compounded by estimates that federal IT spending will double between 2001 and 2006, said Santaniello. And the commercial services market, "the fastest growing" segment of the federal IT market, will reach $27 billion by 2006, he said.
CompTIA suggests companies familiarize themselves with the regulation via federal Web site www.section508.gov and www.CompTIA.org. The biggest challenge is knowing what IT products are compliant, and Santaniello predicts the dilemma will be "even tougher" once the regulations ripple down to state and local agencies, he said.
Today, the responsibility for compliance rests on solution providers, but federal purchasing agents will check for compliance once purchases are made. CompTIA predicts state and local agencies will not have the same level of knowledge and manpower as their federal counterparts, leaving solution providers open to non-compliance issues.
"[Solution providers are probably in the toughest position, there's no doubt about it," said Santaniello. "A lot of these questions are still up in the air."
While there is no central database with Section 508-compliant products, CompTIA has been working with vendors to populate a Buy Accessibility template on the CompTIA Web site with products believed to be compliant.
However, CompTIA suggests that solution providers get the most accurate compliance information by seeking out a representative at the vendor or distributor level that's knowledgeable with Section 508.