Accessibility made accessible

With agencies under the gun to make their office technologies and Web sites accessible to people with disabilities, accessibility products took center stage at this year's FOSE trade show in Washington, D.C.

Companies not only displayed devices that enable people with physical, visual or hearing impairments to use computers, but also stressed their commitment to raising awareness of the accessibility issue and helping agencies comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act by the June deadline.

Hewlett-Packard Co. announced a companywide policy to ensure that its products and services are accessible to people with disabilities. HP's approach is to not 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," he said.

Human Factors International Inc., a consulting group focused on systems "usability," encourages that method. 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, found on any page of the main site.

Science Applications International Corp. displayed the orbiTouch keyless keyboard by Keybowl Inc. It 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, reducing repetitive strain.

Never-Ending Storage

There's no impending deadline, but there's also no end in sight to the demand for fast access to high volumes of data, making storage technology a hot topic at this year's show.

During a panel discussion on data interoperability, storage giant EMC Corp. discussed its ECOstructure initiative, which it launched in 2000 with Cisco Systems Inc. and Oracle Corp. Engineers from the three companies are working on "blueprints" to help customers design and build systems combining the trio's Internet-based business solutions. More blueprints are coming "in the near future," EMC executives said. The ability to access information through a variety of systems is crucial if federal agencies are going to make their information readily available to more people, according to EMC.

That's why EMC has made its solutions "agnostic" regarding hardware, operating environments and applications, said Don Swatik, vice president of global alliances for EMC. Even if two agencies merged, they could easily integrate their storage systems, he said. EMC's federal customers include the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the Secret Service and the Air Force.

In product news, Snap Appliances Inc. unveiled Snap Server ES12, a midrange network-attached storage appliance. The ES12 is an enterprise solution that Snap hopes will entice government agencies now using expensive Windows NT-class servers and SCSI- attached RAID systems, said Drew Meyer, product manager.

Key features of the new server include: 900G total capacity and 750G available in RAID 5 configuration; 3U (5.25-inches) form factor that fits into a standard 19-inch rack; hot-swappable hard drives; and redundant and hot-swappable fans and power supplies.

Volume shipments of the ES12, which is priced under $25,000, are planned for the third quarter of this year.

Other FOSE News

* Robbins-Gioia Inc. introduced a tool to help government agencies avoid tough modernization decisions by making the right investments from the start through its Portfolio Management Solution.

The tool allows chief information and financial officers to analyze the best mix of information technology investments to meet performance goals, said Barry Calogero, RGI's executive vice president of business development. The solution, now being piloted with the CIO at the Defense Logistics Agency, is a combination of software tools that helps managers analyze potential investments and processes.

* Ricoh Silicon Valley Inc. unveiled eCabinet, a product that automatically captures, digitally files, indexes and retrieves office documents such as e-mails, faxes, scans, printouts and Web content.

The eCabinet ($13,995) features full-text searching capabilities and can save a document in its original form or in Portable Document Format. The PDF option should help with Freedom of Information Act requests because agencies can easily black out anything not for public view while still putting the document itself on the Web, said Laura Deaton, director of public and analyst relations at RSV.

GTSI Corp. has signed on to resell eCabinet in the federal market.

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