by Patrick Sheehan
The requirement for audio description as part of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as amended has been a requirement for federal Information Technology (IT) since 2001. However, within the past five years, Section 508 has finally hit its stride and promises to pick up the pace. In 2018 the technical standards that govern Section 508 were upgraded by incorporating the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) into the existing standards. The effect was that in one fell swoop the federal government had standards that were measurable, testable, and repeatable. The feds had joined the rest of the world in incorporating modern standards as part of Section 508.
As part of this refresh, the multimedia requirements were modernized to include a more comprehensive closed captioning and audio description requirement that is comparable to what ACB strives for in commercial television and movie theaters. Over the last two years the Section 508 audio description subcommittee has furnished over 200 program managers a list of qualified vendors who can assist agencies with making their videos compliant. This resource took on new importance in 2023 when a “new and improved” government survey was developed by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), U.S. Access Board and the General Services Administration (GSA). One part of the survey was specific to audio description and asked agencies how many of their top five YouTube videos were described. Many agencies did not have the resources to check these videos for audio description or have the talent in-house to remediate them. The ADP Section 508 subcommittee was pleased to provide them with this resource.
In addition, the American Council of the Blind is working with the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation & Education Professionals (ACVREP) to develop a formal certification process for audio description professionals. This certification would cover the AD competencies such as voice talent, writers, AD engineers, and quality assurance specialists. Over time this certification would allow federal agencies to contract for certified professionals or train their in-house talent to fulfill some of these labor categories. This certification could also promote colleges and universities to offer this specialty as part of their media curriculum.
Lastly, Congress is promoting legislation that would mandate that 508 Program Managers “certify” all Information and Communication Technology (ICT) within their agency. This would include videos or any other media project that may need audio description. This new effort by Congress will undoubtably put more emphasis on the creation of quality audio description in the government and help to develop the talent necessary to promote accessible effective multimedia products.