by Pat Sheehan
Moving the Needle
The Section 508 subcommittee has been very active in 2022 providing training, mentorship and resources to federal and state agencies as they move to mature Section 508 programs in the federal government. For years it was believed that any video produced by the government just needed captioning, either open or closed, to conform to the Access Board’s standards. Of course, this is not true; many of the multimedia products produced by the government need audio description (AD) so blind customers can obtain comparable access to the information and services available in government videos.
The Section 508 subcommittee of the American Council of the Blind’s Audio Description Project has engaged the federal sector to provide training, mentorship and resources for agencies to meet AD requirements. Although the standards to provide AD have been part of the technical Section 508 requirements since 2001, the necessary training, commercial subject matter experts, and mentorship have not been available. We are now seeing the government move forward as training and talent are being made part of government procurements, and, more importantly, customers who are becoming accustomed to receiving quality audio description are demanding it.
In late January of 2022, the Section 508 subcommittee provided training through the Access Board’s Chief Information Office Community of Practice (CIOC) training committee. These training sessions, sponsored by the Access Board, provide 6 trainings each year to federal, state, and local agencies on how to meet the technical requirements of Section 508. This year, members of the Access Board, the Section 508 subcommittee, and the National Park Service (NPS) provided an overview of what audio description (AD) is and how it can enhance agency programs, and provided necessary resources to implement an effective AD program within state or federal agencies. According to Access Board metrics, there were around 500 individuals in attendance, a mix of state and federal agencies as well as some commercial companies that have multiple contracts with the federal government.
Members of the ADP 508 subcommittee followed up with several agencies who needed AD resources to fulfill their requirements to provide AD on agency YouTube videos. We provided over 200 agencies with a list of vendors who have had experience in providing audio description for federal or state procurements. In addition, organizations from the blind community, including the American Council of the Blind (ACB), National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA), have contacted federal agencies after reviewing YouTube videos and indicating that the videos are not meeting Section 508 requirements to provide comparable access to information for multimedia products. These federal agencies have agreed to evaluate their YouTube products for conformance and provide a schedule of when these products will be remediated. The Section 508 subcommittee also agrees that multimedia products housed in the YouTube platform should provide the ability to enable AD as part of their overall capability and not force federal agencies to provide a second video product that is enabled for AD only.
The Section 508 subcommittee is pleased that the first ADP Public Sector Award was given to the Centers for Disease Control and Office of the Associate Director for Communications at its annual convention. Quoting from the award guidelines: “The Achievement Awards are made to individuals and/or organizations for outstanding contributions to the establishment and/or continued development of significant audio description programs in each of five areas: media, performing arts, museums/visual arts/visitor centers, international, and public sector.”
The awards committee felt that described the CDC’s ongoing work promoting access to media during the recent pandemic, especially by providing audio description to videos, and for mentorship of other agencies on best practices in implementing audio description within the federal sector.