Recent legislation enacted by Congress (Section 508) requires all websites funded by federal dollars be accessible to those with physical handicaps, including those with vision, hearing and mobility impairments.
The goal is to ensure federal employees and members of the public with disabilities have access to and use of information and data that are comparable to the access to and use of information and data by federal employees and the public who are not disabled.
Section 508 is an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 508 went into effect on June 21, 2001, and it requires that federal agencies' electronic and information technology, including computers, software and electronic office equipment, is accessible to people with disabilities, including employees and members of the public. Section 508 criteria spell out what makes these products accessible to people with disabilities, including those with vision, hearing and mobility impairments.
Standards include technical criteria specific to various types of technologies and performance-based requirements, which focus on the functional capabilities of covered technologies. Specific criteria covered controls, keyboards and keypads; software applications and operating systems (non-embedded); web-based information or applications; telecommunications functions; video or multi-media products; and information kiosks and transaction machines. Compatibility with adaptive equipment that people with disabilities commonly use for information and communication access is also covered.
The law applies to all federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use such technology. The scope of Section 508 and the Board's standards are limited to the federal sector. Thus, non governmental agencies that are awarded grant or funding dollars by the federal government must adhere to Section 508 guidelines for electronic and information technology developed with those monies. Organizations can be exempted from the regulations if they pose an "undue burden;" however, it must explain why meeting the standards creates an undue burden. Currently, exemption by undue burden has not been tested in the courts.
To find out more about Section 508, visit this site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Section_508
Before beginning any Johns Hopkins web project, please contact the appropriate office in your area for assistance with guidelines, standards, or existing programs.
If there is any doubt about the methods for collecting, storing, or displaying sensitive information on websites, the Johns Hopkins legal department (410-516-8128) should be contacted for a definitive answer about Hopkins' liability and responsibility.