Accessibility aids on display

A keyless keyboard and accessible mirror Web sites were among the solutions vendors were pitching Tuesday to help agencies meet the June 21 deadline for making their devices and Web sites accessible to people with disabilities.

At the FOSE trade show in Washington, D.C., vendors not only displayed devices that enable people with physical, visual or hearing impairments to use computers, but they also stressed their corporate commitment to raising awareness of the accessibility issue.

Hewlett-Packard Co. announced a companywide policy Tuesday to ensure that its products and services are accessible to people with disabilities in accordance with amendments to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. The company said it will:

  • Train employees to be aware of accessibility issues in designing its products.
  • Implement accessibility guidelines for HP products and services.
  • Support research and development projects to improve state-of-the-art assistive technology products and services.
  • Contribute to industry standards and guidelines for accessibility.

HP has had an office for accessibility since December 2000, said Jocelyn Lai, HP's e-services program manager. That office has now been raised to the corporate level, she said.

"We want not just compliance with Section 508, but we want to make products that help our users," Lai said.

HP's approach is not to build accessibility tools into every product but to make sure all its products can be used with assistive devices, said James Berish, HP's federal procurement policy manager.

"Our approach is to have a plug-and-play approach where a device will have a standard interface with assistive technology devices," Berish said.

Human Factors International Inc., a usability consulting group, encouraged that approach. In regard to Web sites, HFI suggested that agencies create mirror sites that contain the same content as their original sites but are coded to work well with browsers used by visually impaired people.

HFI helped manage the user-interface design of the main site and mirror site for the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (www.ninds.nih.gov), according to a March 21 news release from HFI. The mirror site is reached from an "accessible version" link on any page of the main site.

Also at FOSE, Science Applications International Corp. displayed the orbiTouch keyless keyboard, which will be available through the integrator next month.

The orbiTouch keyboard, by Keybowl Inc., has two domes that slide into one of eight positions from a central resting point. To type or use the keyboard as a mouse, a user moves his or her hands and arms rather than fingers, which reduces repetitive strain injury.

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