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Letter on accessibility to tech industry partnership

From: <empower@smart.net>
Date: Wed, 11 Mar 1998 08:10:58 -0700
Message-Id: <199803111309.IAA25084@gemini.smart.net>
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
On March 9, Judy Heumann, Assistant Secretary for Special Education 
and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education, 
and Marca Bristo, Chair of the National Council on Disability, 
sent the letter below (with several attachments) to the chief 
executive officers of five major computer companies, which have 
formed a partnership to coordinate development of next-generation 
Internet technologies.

The letter was addressed to each CEO as follows:

Mr. James Barksdale
Chief Executive Officer
Netscape Communications Corporation
501 East Middlefield Road
Mountain View, CA  94043

Mr. Lawrence Ellison
Chief Executive Officer
Oracle Corporation
500 Oracle Parkway
Redwood Shores, CA  94065

Mr. Louis V. Gerstner, Jr.
Chairman of the Board and CEO
IBM Corporation
New Orchard Road
Armonk, NY  10504

Mr. Scott McNealy
Chief Executive Officer
Sun Microsystems, Inc.
Mailstop UPAL01-501
901 San Antonio Road
Palo Alto, CA  94303

Mr. Eric Schmidt
Novell Inc.
2180 Fortune Drive
San Jose, CA  95131

A copy of the letter went to:

Senator Robert Dole
c/o Verner, Liipfert et al
901 15th Street, N.W.
Suite 410
Washington, DC  20005

Dear <CEO>: :

We are writing to you as leaders of two Federal agencies which
have as their over-arching goal the achieving of equality for
people with disabilities throughout the country and the world. 
The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
(OSERS), in the U.S. Department of Education,  seeks to improve
the lives of individuals with disabilities through the provision
of special education and vocational rehabilitation services, and
the conduct of research on disability-related topics.  The
National Council on Disability (NCD) is an independent federal
agency  with a fifteen member board appointed by the President
and confirmed  by the U.S. Senate.  Its mandate is to promote
policies and practices  that facilitate the personal independence
and  economic self sufficiency of America's 54 million people
with disabilities.


As officials of the Clinton Administration in charge of national
disability policy, we have been following with interest the
agreement between your company and four others to establish a
far-reaching Internet platform based on Java and related
technologies. By joining together to realize this outcome, it is
no doubt your hope to pivotally influence the computer industry
as a whole, and in particular, the direction that connectivity
and telecommunications policies and protocols will take into the
next century.

We are writing to you, and to the other members of your
five-member partnership, to request, in the strongest possible
terms, that you ensure that this new platform includes, in its
core design, provisions that will guarantee its accessibility to
individuals with disabilities--including visual, hearing, manual,
or cognitive limitations.  To put it succinctly, the
accessibility of the future Internet to disabled people, if
appropriately designed, will have a profoundly positive and far-
reaching effect on educational and employment outcomes for the
estimated one out of every five Americans who have disabilities. 
The reverse is also true:  if the future Internet moves towards
an environment that locks out this nation's 54 million disabled
people, the effects on education and employment outcomes will be
devastating.  It is critical then that any future, Java-based
Internet applications be designed according to established and
progressing standards of accessibility.

We know that at two of the companies involved in this project,
IBM and Sun Microsystems, there are dedicated efforts by special
needs staff to include accessibility features in present and
future releases of Java development kits. We are concerned,
however, that given the fast-track nature of plans by the
five-company partnership, accessibility as a design feature will
either fall by the wayside or be left out altogether.


The appropriateness of universal design principles in the new
connectivity architecture are underscored by a number of recent
developments, which have brought accessibility to the forefront
of activity both within government and the computer industry.

For example, the U.S. Department of Education has issued specific
software accessibility requirements for inclusion in all software
development contracts. In meeting these obligations to employees
and customers with disabilities, any future software developed
under contract for the Department must meet these specific
accessibility requirements, which we have enclosed for your

Additionally, in October 1997 Education Secretary Richard Riley
signed a ground-breaking "Dear Colleague" letter (copy enclosed),
which, along with a technical assistance package on access to
technology, has been sent to every school district throughout the
country. This material emphasizes the responsibility of school
systems under several Federal statutes to provide technology
access and stresses the desirability of considering access issues
as an early and integral part of technology procurement. We see
this work as critical to the success of President Clinton's
technology Initiative, which calls for every classroom to be
connected to the Internet by the year 2000.

The Department has also supported a White House initiative to
promote the accessibility of the world wide web. It transferred
funds to the National Science Foundation to support the "Web
Accessibility Initiative" of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
in five areas key to ensuring access to persons with
disabilities: (1) technology development--protocols and data
formats; (2) tools supporting content in formats useable by
persons with disabilities; (3) technology guidelines; (4)
educational outreach; and (5) research and advanced development. 
The W3C's attention to accessibility-related criteria in the
release of HTML 4.0, and their drafting of guidance for Web page
authors on accessible Web design (press release enclosed) are two
positive outcomes of this effort.

In February 1996 President Clinton signed the landmark
Telecommunications Act. This law makes clear that the millions of
Americans with disabilities are entitled to share fully in the
benefits of telecommunications services and equipment which have
become such an integral element of our educational, social,
political, and economic future. In adopting Section 255 of the
Act, Congress expressed the clear intent that telecommunications
services and equipment be made accessible to and usable by all
people with disabilities, whenever readily achievable.  Through
its Tech Watch Task Force, a cross-disability group of technology
advisors, the National Council on Disability has provided policy
recommendations at every stage of the Act's implementation.  In
August 1997 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued
regulations concerning the accessibility of video programming
delivered by telecommunications providers (copy enclosed).  In
January 1998 The Access Board published guidelines concerning the
accessibility of telecommunications and customer premises
equipment (copy enclosed).

The National Council on Disability and the Department of
Education have also actively promoted the strengthening of
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, currently being
reauthorized by Congress, which requires Federal agencies to use
equipment and data that is accessible to and usable by
individuals with disabilities.  Pending legislation assigns new
authority to the Access Board for developing technical
requirements and new responsibility to the Office of Management
and Budget for developing procurement procedures and an
enforcement mechanism.

Other countries too, especially in Europe, are also paying more
attention to deploying accessible technology, so designing for
accessibility would no doubt benefit your partnership in the
global market as well.

And lastly, the enclosed letter from the Department of Justice to
Senator Tom Harkin provides clear Congressional intent that the
Internet must comply with the accessibility provisions of the
Americans with Disabilities Act.


Given the movement toward increased emphasis on accessibility
standards in the marketplace, we are asking for your commitment
in the following areas:

1.   Although two of the members of this consortium (IBM and Sun)
     have established laudable corporate efforts on access for
     people with disabilities, there is no indication that the
     five-member group is utilizing developments in this area in
     a manner that will ensure platform accessibility by disabled
     people. Accordingly, we believe it is necessary to implement
     a comprehensive and meaningful partnership policy on
     accessibility, including goals, timelines, and resources;
     this would include the assigning of responsibility for
     accessibility to a top-level team which reports directly to
     the partnership leadership, and which can ensure that
     decisions affecting accessibility are given high priority.
     This should include a high-level accessibility presence
     within Netscape, to ensure that future versions of Navigator
     and related products meet accessibility standards.  For
     example, the Java-based Netscape web browser, reportedly now
     in development, might implement Sun's Java access protocol
     in its core design.

2.   Work with organizations representing the interests of people
     with disabilities to provide training on accessibility
     issues for partnership member staff across all product

3.   A large body of knowledge has been developed through both
     research and experience on the best ways to develop
     accessible Web sites without impinging upon the creativity
     and other varied needs of Web page designers. We recommend
     that you identify knowledgeable disabled people and others
     familiar with these concepts to serve as beta testers for
     newly developed software and Internet design strategies to
     ensure that new platforms and architecture satisfy
     accessibility requirements.

4.   Given the well-established body of knowledge on accessible
     Internet design, we request that any Internet 
     authoring/developmen tools you produce should as much as
     possible generate Internet based applications that are
     accessible by default. This could include, for example,
     reminding authors to use alt tags on images, text links that
     correspond to image maps, etc.

5.   Given the seeming complexities of these issues, we are
     requesting the opportunity to meet with the leadership of
     your partnership to further clarify these issues, and to
     help establish a mechanism to ensure their inclusion in your
     present and future activities.

We know for certain that given the right tools, individuals with
disabilities can learn and work in equal measure alongside their
non-disabled peers, fully contributing to all aspects of societal
life.  Yet despite this truth, the attitudinal, physical, and
work-place barriers keep almost 70% of working-age adults with
disabilities still unemployed  or severely under employed. We are
committed to breaking down these many barriers which keep
disabled people from taking their rightful place as fully
participating citizens, and we are asking for your help to bring
this about.

From a marketing standpoint, as individuals with disabilities
increasingly participate in the   mainstream of work, education
and recreation, purchasers of technology are increasingly
inclined to consider accessibility issues when making buying
decisions. Accordingly, improvements in accessibility, once
regarded by many technology developers as a low priority, will
quickly become an important source of competitive advantage for
those   producers who go beyond the minimum requirements of the
law.  We are thus moving toward a world and an environment in
which accessibility for people with disabilities to all facets of
life will be a commonplace, naturally-occurring phenomenon. As
this happens, the barriers that keep so many people with
disabilities from taking their rightful place as fully
contributing members of our society will vanish. It is our hope,
that through your leadership, you and the other members of your
group will help bring this new era about.

Sincerely yours,

Judith Heumann                     Marca Bristo
Assistant Secretary for            Chairperson
Special Education and              National Council on Disability
 Rehabilitative Services
U.S. Department of Education

cc: Honorable Robert Dole, Esq.

End of Document
Received on Wednesday, 11 March 1998 08:09:19 UTC

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