NIST: Cloud computing products, services must consider accessibility

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A new National Institute of Standards and Technology Draft guidance identified specific areas where cloud computing provides opportunities for and, at times, jeopardizes accessibility.

In Draft Special Publication 500-317 (pdf), NIST also proposed a taxonomy that could be used to address accessibility for cloud computing products and services. The taxonomy provided a common language to discuss problems and solutions, and can be used during cloud computing procurement, noted the agency.

The publication also posed several hypothetical scenarios that federal employees with disabilities could experience as their agencies shift from legacy IT systems to cloud-based software or data storage systems. While an individual's local computer may be customized to provide an accessible experience, accessing applications through the Web can present another set of challenges.

The report listed eight known "experiences of inaccessibility" the cloud poses as well as barriers, such as automatic updates to cloud applications that may not be compatible accessibility tools.

"Cloud Computing and Accessibility Considerations examines the challenges, barriers and opportunities federal information technology managers face to comply with both the federal government's accessibility requirements – Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act – and the federal Cloud First policy," said Robert Bohn, NIST's cloud computing technology program manager, in a press release.

Two cloud-based approaches the report discussed can actually aid in accessibility: The use of accessibility application programming interfaces, or APIs, and the Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure, which is an accessibility framework.

"Regarding guidance, we emphasize the importance of relying on WCAG 2.0 as both a primary source and a rallying point for the accessibility communities of practice, but we do present some specific guidance for a few key categories of cloud computing products and services," said the report.

NIST's Cloud Computing Accessibility Public Working Group seeks comment on the draft report by April 29.

For more:
- download NIST Draft SP 500-317 (.pdf)
- read the NIST press release

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