What standards exist for procuring accessible desktop and portable computers?

Updated January 11th, 2013

Information technology accessibility discussions tend to focus on the accessibility of content, whether it is delivered on the web or in computer software applications. The accessibility of computer hardware, however, is equally critical, since, even if content is accessible; an inaccessible computer can pose a barrier that denies a customer or employee access to that content.

In December 2001, the federal Access Board published the Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards, as mandated by 1998 amendments to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. The standards are organized into six product categories, one of which is "Desktop and portable computers." The four standards in this category address the accessibility of controls and keys, touch screen controls, connection parts, and the need for an accessible alternative if technology is protected by biometric user ID.

Section 508 requires that electronic and information technology developed, maintained, procured, or used by the federal government be accessible. Although the law specifically applies to the federal government, its accompanying standards are helpful measures of information technology accessibility and are being mandated or voluntarily used as accessibility standards by many other organizations. The Access Board has supplemented its Section 508 standards with a well-written Guide to the Standards. See specifically the Guide's Desktop and Portable Computers section.

In 2006 the Telecommunications and Electronic and Information Technology Advisory Committee (TEITAC) was established to refresh the standards and guidelines of Section 508.

As of October 2012, the second draft is still under review and the current version of Section 508 still applies.

The public may sign-up to receive updates on this rulemaking at the Access Board website.