Executive branch agencies aim to ensure that everyone has equitable access to online information and the services they provide; including, but not limited to, people who use hardware or software assistive technologies (AT) to operate IT devices, and those with visual, auditory, physical, or other disabilities protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
IT Accessibility Standards
In order to implement the various requirements of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Commonwealth Constitution, M.G.L. c. 7D, s. 3, Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Order 348, and other applicable obligations, EOTSS establishes the following IT Accessibility Standards.
- Accessibility of electronic content, applications, or services must be measured with one or more of the applicable following technical standards.
- Web and desktop applications, multimedia content, electronic documents:
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 (WCAG), level A and AA Guidelines.
- Web and desktop applications used to produce content:
Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (ATAG2), level A and AA Guidelines.
- Portable Document Format (PDF) documents:
ISO 14289-1:2014 Document management applications -- Electronic document file format enhancement for accessibility -- Part 1: Use of ISO 32000-1 (PDF/UA-1) : for Portable Document Format (PDF) documents.
- Hardware that transmits information or has a user interface, such as display screens, variable message signs, and kiosks:
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Standards and Guidelines, Chapter 4: Hardware of Section 508.
See also 521 CMR 1.00 et seq. issued by the Architectural Access Board for additional requirements for physical placement of such hardware.
- If the standards in section 1.1 either do not cover functions in an IT solution or if an IT solution is not in full compliance, then Functional Performance Criteria as articulated in Chapter 3 of Section 508 must be used to address accessibility relevant to disabilities impacting vision, hearing, color perception, speech, cognition, manual dexterity, reach, and strength.
Compliance with accessibility standards
In order to ensure that all persons within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have equal information about the government of the Commonwealth’s activities and equal access to government services, as required by Article 114 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth and by M.G.L. c. 93, s. 103(a), and pursuant to EOTSS’s authority under M.G.L. c. 7D, s. 3, compliance with Section 1 above is mandatory for all executive department entities and is voluntary for all other Commonwealth entities.
- Agencies are responsible for ensuring compliance with IT accessibility standards for any information technology they acquire, procure, develop, or substantially modify or enhance, including software available without cost.
- Agencies are responsible for ensuring compliance with the IT accessibility standards for all content and applications they make available to employees or to the public.
Accessibility planning and testing
The easiest and most cost effective way to achieve IT accessibility is to plan for it and to include accessibility testing throughout the product lifecycle; minimizing cost through effective procurement planning is a core principle of the Commonwealth’s “best value” procurement strategy, as articulated by the Operational Services Division. Accordingly, pursuant to its authority under M.G.L. c. 7D, s. 3, EOTSS implements the following accessibility planning and testing practices.
- Accessibility requirements must be included in project specifications and used in design and development decisions.
- Responsibility for accessibility compliance must rest with project leadership personnel for each IT-related project.
- Accessibility evaluation should be included in all IT procurement or development projects and used in making procurement and deployment decisions.
Existing and commercially available information technology services might not meet all of the IT Accessibility Standards described in Section 1 above for a variety of reasons (e.g., no vendor produces suitably accessible services, or the implementation of certain accessibility features would necessarily compromise effective government operations or citizen security). Additionally, the development of new accessibility technologies may render previously essential accessibility services redundant. Accordingly, pursuant to its authority under M.G.L. c. 7D, s. 3, EOTSS strongly recommends that agencies make use of the following mitigation plan system upon receiving notice that some existing information technology service utilized by Commonwealth agencies does not comply with these IT accessibility standards. Mitigation plans document the minimum actions necessary to address deficiencies.
- Whenever an agency receives notice that an existing information technology service does not fully comply with the IT Accessibility Standards, that agency should timely create a mitigation plan. Defects should be identified and analyzed to determine the impact they have on people’s ability to use it and the plan should address all identified defects based on that analysis.
- The mitigation plan should outline strategies, specific activities, emergent technologies, or other actions needed to minimize the difficulties people with disabilities may have in using that IT. This may include planned remediation, configuration, or customizations, and reasonable accommodations agencies will need to provide until accessibility deficiencies have been addressed. Mitigation plans should be shared with the agency’s ADA Coordinator and may also be distributed to other subject matter experts as necessary, e.g., technical specialists.
- Defects that prevent task completion should be fixed prior to deployment whenever possible, or as quickly as is practicable for IT already in use.
- Procurement requirements
As per Executive Order 348, accessibility requirements must be included when procuring IT goods and services. Most state IT projects rely on vendors for integration or development and the use of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) or cloud-based software, such as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). Accordingly, pursuant to its authority under M.G.L. c 7D, s. 3, and in coordination with the Office of the Comptroller and the Operational Services Division, EOTSS requires that all information technology procurements comply with the IT Acquisition Accessibility Compliance Program.
Agencies must adhere to the requirements of the IT Acquisition Accessibility Compliance Program, including but not limited to the use of required accessibility language in procurement requests and resulting contracts.
Online information and services accessibility policy statement
In order to meet the Commonwealth’s obligations under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, agencies which maintain an online website should post an online information and services accessibility statement. This statement communicates the agency's commitment to making information accessible and, significantly, gives a mechanism to request assistance and to provide feedback.
- State Commonwealth agency websites and other information technology services must have an online information and services accessibility statement.
- The online information and services accessibility statement should, at a minimum, be linked to from a website home page or clearly identified within the service. It may be accessed from a site policies link on the home page and included with other site policies, such as the site's privacy and security policies.
- The online information and services accessibility policy statement accessibility statement should list what accessibility standards are used to measure accessibility. It may also include a description of how and when testing is conducted.
- The online information and services accessibility statement should include agency contact information to report accessibility issues or to request alternative formats or other reasonable accommodations.
- The online information and services accessibility statement should describe known accessibility issues with guidance on how people with disabilities can work around them.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 creates an IT accessibility framework as well as an exemption system that, while not universally applicable to all Commonwealth activities, should be considered best practice. As described below, an agency should attempt to comply with the Section 508 IT standards wherever possible, but may determine itself to be exempt from portions of the standards to the extent that full compliance would compromise effective government operations and/or citizen security. Documentation of voluntary compliance with the Section 508 standards creates a record of good faith effort to meet existing accessibility obligations.
- If an agency determines itself to be exempt, it should document the extent of the exemption, and the applicable justification, in its own records. Permissible justifications are as follows:
- The function, operation, or use of an information technology solution involves intelligence activities, activities related to the Commonwealth’s security, command and control of military forces, or equipment that is an integral part of a weapon or weapons system.
- The technology is only used by a contractor in developing or deploying a system and is not intended to be used by the agency, its employees, or consumers.