Reno: Communication barrier to accessibility

Attorney General Janet Reno on Tuesday presented the Justice Department's

first scheduled report on Section 508, an amendment to the 1998 Workforce

Investment Act.

The act calls for agencies to make their electronic and information

technology accessible to employees and citizens with disabilities by Aug.

7.

"Information Technology and People with Disabilities: The Current State

of Federal Accessibility" includes recommendations for agencies in communication,

procurement and technical assistance. Reno announced the release of the

report at the FOSE 2000 trade show in Washington, D.C.

Based on self-evaluations from 81 agencies, the report calls for increased

inter- and intra-agency coordination on the issue and the need for more

communication between "those with technical expertise and those with knowledge

of disability access issues."

"The biggest barrier is opening the lines of communication, not technology,"

Reno said. "Unless we talk together, we can't move forward. The ultimate

goal is to make the government's IT more accessible."

The report recommended that agencies:

* Designate Section 508 coordinators.

* Develop alternative dispute resolutions.

* Write specific accessibility language into their requests for proposals.

* Test World Wide Web pages before posting them and dedicate e-mail

addresses to address accessibility barriers.

The report also calls on the General Service Administration and the

Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (the Access Board)

to establish an information hotline, technical support center and Internet

resources.

Besides supplying the government with the assistive technologies, the

private sector also is helping agencies with the new requirements.

Steve Ballmer, president and chief executive officer at Microsoft Corp.,

on Tuesday announced that the company would provide a $250,000 grant for

a program that will help federal agencies comply with Section 508.

The cooperative project between Microsoft, Highway 1 (a nonprofit group

created to educate the government about technology) and Accessible Systems

Inc. will bring accessibility training courses to federal agencies. The

three-part program includes a survey course, a technical course and a laboratory

course.

As part of the program, Microsoft also is setting up an assistive technology

lab where government agencies can test software for accessibility.

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