- By William Matthews
- Oct 29, 2000
"I don't see any disabilities being too difficult to accommodate," said
Ophelia Falls as she strolled among eight high-tech workstations.
Screen readers, video magnifiers, speech-recognition software and text
telephone machines were poised to prove her point. So were Braille keyboards,
one-handed keyboards, split keyboards, even flexible rubber keyboards, ergonomic
chairs, alternative pointing devices and a multitude of mice.
"Multiple disabilities may be a challenge, but none of them are impossible,"
Falls insisted. She runs the Technology Accessible Resources Gives Employment
Today (TARGET) Center, the federal government's largest center for demonstrating
accessible technology. It's located, of all places, in the Agriculture Department.
Managers and procurement officials from a variety of government agencies
go to the center to learn what they can do to accommodate disabled employees.
Federal Webmasters visit to find out if their Internet creations meet accessibility
requirements. Government lawyers drop by to discover how their agencies
can prepare for impending accessibility rules.
The lesson for most is, "it's not as hard as you think," said Falls,
who founded the center and USDA's Accessible Technology Program in 1992.
Technology is improving and its price is falling so fast that what was an
expensive technical challenge a short time ago often is cheap and easy today,
Consider speech-recognition software. It used to cost $10,000 to buy
a program that had to be trained to recognize the user's voice and was finicky
about pronunciation and ambient noise. But today, $600 buys a program that
requires less training and comes in versions attuned to medical or legal
lingo. Screen readers that make it possible for blind and visually impaired
people to use graphics-heavy computers have dropped in price to less than
Next spring, federal agencies must provide disabled workers with accessible
computers, office equipment and Web sites, and over the next five years
agencies are under executive orders to hire 100,000 workers with disabilities.