Government Improves Technology Access

Internet users who are blind and use software that reads text aloud often find that government Web pages are inaccessible to them.  People in wheelchairs often cannot get close enough to photocopiers in federal buildings to operate them.  This lack of accessibility is especially difficult for the hundreds of thousands of Federal employees with disabilities who cannot access information they need on the job.

On June 25, 2001, President Bush ordered the implementation of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments, an action designed to help not only people with disabilities inside the government, but the general public as well.  Section 508 “requires Federal departments
and agencies that develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology to ensure that Federal employees and members of the public with disabilities have access to and use of information and data, comparable to that of the employees and members of the public without disabilities  unless it is an undue burden to do so.”

People with physical disabilities, vision and hearing impairments, and other disabilities should all see the advantages of the implementation ordered by the President.  Some of the changes which will be brought about by the implementation include:

Electronic forms will be changed to work properly with the associated software, and the flashy animations that mean nothing to the screen readers will be revised.         

Information kiosks at national parks will be required to have an alternate method of providing information such as audio prompts in addition to a touch screen.         

Web sites that use graphics for navigation will need to have text that describes those graphics.

Some technology will be exempt, including old Web pages or national security devices.

The regulations, which planners say will cost the government as much as $590 million, have caused some confusion as the deadline nears, demanding a big time commitment from each agency. Larry Allen, executive director of the Coalition for Government Procurement, said the
regulations are too vague. “The contractors are scared to death about having to certify that they’re in compliance with a standard that no one can tell you exactly what it is.”

Further information on the Federal Information Technology Accessibility Initiative can be found on the web at http://www.section508.gov

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