Clinton pushes access

Access America for People with Disabilitie

Agencies have a renewed sense of urgency to provide technology that is accessible

to everyone.

President Clinton issued two executive orders on the 10th anniversary

of the Americans with Disabilities Act last week that underscore the federal

government's push to be a model employer of people with disabilities.

The new policies will emphasize the need to get the technology in place

as soon as possible, experts said. That's especially important after Congress

moved back the deadline for compliance with Section 508 of the Workforce

Investment Act of 1998, which calls for agencies to make their technology

accessible to people with disabilities.

Clinton ordered agencies to hire 100,000 people with disabilities over

the next five years. To support that goal, Clinton directed agencies to

submit plans to the Office of Personnel Management by Sept. 25 on how they

will put in place the tools and procedures to make it easier for people

with disabilities to perform in the federal workplace.

"Bringing in these 100,000 people will place an extraordinary premium

on all of us...to move with great alacrity and ensure we have a prompt transition

to Section 508," said David Colton, a lawyer with the Information Technology

Association of America.

In May, Congress pushed back the deadline for compliance with Section

508 from Aug. 8 to six months after the Access Board releases guidelines

for agencies and technology vendors to follow. The reprieve has helped vendors

that are working on accessible technology and agencies that are training

contracting officers on the new requirements. But it also gave room for

procrastination, so the executive orders will help refocus attention, Colton

said.

The order to hire 100,000 new employees addresses the shortage of skilled

IT employees within government because it draws on an underrepresented

pool of workers, said Bill Piatt, chief information officer at the General

Services Administration. "There are a lot of skilled IT people out there

that are disabled," he said.

In a memo to agencies last week, Clinton also asked for the Interagency

Committee on Disability Research to develop a report on the types of technologies

that need more research and development, including text-to-speech and speech-recognition

software.

"Assistive technologies and products that incorporate universal design

principles can significantly improve the quality of life for people with

disabilities and increase their ability to participate in the workplace,"

the memo states.

Clinton also called on agencies to take advantage of new call-center

technologies that make it possible for employees to staff the centers from

home.

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