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Summary of 3 federal laws on tech access by PWD

From: <empower@smart.net>
Date: Thu Mar 26 13:52:01 1998
Message-Id: <199803261851.NAA30502@gemini.smart.net>
To: uaccess-l@trace.wisc.edu
CC: telecom-l@trace.wisc.edu, easi@maelstrom.stjohns.edu, vicug-l@maelstrom.stjohns.edu, nfbcs@nfbnet.org, blindlaw@nfbnet.org, ada-law@listserv.nodak.edu, w3c-wai-ig@w3.org, java-access@javasoft.com
At the Microsoft accessibility summit in Redmond, Washington on
February 18, Dave Capozzi of the U.S. Access Board delivered the
following remarks on federal laws concerning technology access by
citizens with disabilities.

I.	Introduction

 Until recently, making technology accessible to people with
 disabilities was like teaching a pig to sing.  The pig isn't happy
 and the results are less than satisfactory.  In terms of making
 technology accessible this is beginning to change slowly.  More
 technology is becoming accessible and the amount of accessible
 technology should be increasing even more  in the near term for two
 important reasons.

II.	Two reasons

 1.  It is becoming clear to product developers and manufacturers that
 providing access to technology is "the smart thing to do"; for a
 simple reason -- there is a growing number of people with
 disabilities who require access to technologies.

  There are 48.9 million Americans, one out of every five people, who
  have a functional limitation. These functional limitations impact
  the ability of individuals to use and experience the ever expanding
  benefits of technologies.  Of the total number of Americans with
  disabilities, 5.8% are children under 18 years old; 13.6% are 18-44
  years old; and 29.2% are 45-64 years old.

  8% of world wide web users have a disability.

  The U.S. is experiencing a rapid increase of older Americans.  More
  than 53% of all Americans with disabilities are 65 years of age or
  older.  With aging comes the greater probability of functional
  limitations.  The Census Bureau projects that the number of
  Americans 65 years and older will more than double between now and
  the year 2050, to 80 million. The "aging of America" will  result in
  an increased need and demand for easy to use products to compensate
  for functional limitations.  

 Also, there is a market for providing accessible technologies to
 people with disabilities because of an unmet need of providing
 access.  Here are a few examples of the Federal government market:

  the Federal government market for goods and services is the single
  largest market in the world.  About $200 billion is spent annually
  for everything from paper clips to jet aircraft.  Every 20 seconds
  of each working day the Federal government awards a contract with an
  average value of $465,000. 

  The Federal government is also the single largest purchaser and
  procurer of technology.  It spends $26.4 billion annually on
  electronic office equipment, information technology (including
  hardware and software), and technical assistance services.

  7.5% of Federal employees are people with disabilities -- 145,000

  2.  The second reason the amount of accessible
  technology should be increasing is because "it's the law".  When I
  say, "it's the law" -- there are actually three (3) laws you need to
  be concerned about.  They are:

  section 255 of the Telecommunications Act
  section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act
  the Americans with Disabilities Act

 1.  Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act.

  On February 3, 1998, the Access Board issued final guidelines for
  accessibility, usability, and compatibility of telecommunications
  equipment and customer premises equipment covered by section 255 of
  the Telecommunications Act.

  Section 255 provides that a manufacturer of telecommunications
  equipment or customer premises equipment shall ensure that the
  equipment is designed, developed, and fabricated to be accessible to
  and usable by individuals with disabilities, if readily achievable. 
  A provider of telecommunications services shall ensure that the
  service is accessible to and usable by individuals with
  disabilities, if readily achievable.  Whenever either of these is
  not readily achievable, a manufacturer or provider shall ensure that
  the equipment or service is compatible with existing peripheral
  devices or specialized customer premises equipment commonly used by
  individuals with disabilities to achieve access, if readily

  The FCC has exclusive jurisdiction in any enforcement action under
  section 255.  The law also precludes an individual's private right
  of action to enforce any requirement of section 255 or any
  regulation issued pursuant to section 255.

  The guidelines are "prospective in nature" and apply to products
  which are designed, developed and fabricated -- all three events
  must have occurred after enactment of the Act (February 1996). 
  There is no requirement to retrofit existing equipment.

  The guidelines do not differentiate between hardware, firmware or
  software implementations of a product's functions or features.  The
  functions are covered by the guidelines whether the functions are
  provided by software, hardware, or firmware.

  The guidelines require that manufacturers evaluate the
  accessibility, usability, and compatibility of products and
  incorporate the evaluation throughout product design, development,
  and fabrication, as early and consistently as possible.  Since what
  is readily achievable will vary according to the stage of
  development (i.e., some things will be readily achievable in the
  design phase which are not in later phases), barriers to
  accessibility, usability, and compatibility must be identified
  throughout product design and development, from conceptualization to
  production.  The details of such a process will vary from one
  company to the next, so the guidelines do not specify the structure
  or specific content of a process.  Instead, the guidelines set forth
  a series of factors that a manufacturer must consider in developing
  such a process.  How, and to what extent, each of the factors is
  incorporated in a specific process is up to the manufacturer.

  The guidelines also require that manufacturers provide access to
  information and documentation.  This information and documentation
  includes user guides, installation guides, and product support
  communications, regarding both the product in general and the
  accessibility features of the product.  Information and
  documentation are what make a product usable by anyone and, if such
  information is provided to the public at no charge, it must be
  provided to people with disabilities at no additional charge. 
  Alternate formats or alternate modes of this information are also
  required to be available, upon request.  Manufacturers are also
  required to ensure usable customer support and technical support in
  the call centers and service centers, which support their products.

  The guidelines give broad performance based provisions that require
  product input, control and mechanical functions to be locatable,
  identifiable, and operable through at least one mode which meets
  each of nine (9) paragraphs.  Each of the product's input, control
  and mechanical functions must be evaluated against each of the
  paragraphs to ensure that there is at least one mode that meets each
  of those requirements.  There may be one mode which meets more than
  one of the specific provisions.  The guidelines do not specify how a
  requirement is to be met but only specifies the outcome.  The
  appendix to the guidelines contains a set of strategies which may
  help in developing solutions.

  The guidelines also have provisions which apply to output, display,
  and control functions which are necessary to operate products.  This
  includes lights and other visual displays and prompts, control
  labels, alphanumeric characters and text, static and dynamic images,
  icons, screen dialog boxes, and tones and beeps which provide
  operating cues or control status.

 2.  Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

  In 1986 Congress created section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. 
  This section required the Department of Education and the General
  Services Administration to develop accessibility guidelines for
  Federal agencies who purchase electronic and information technology.
  The guidelines were issued in 1987.  

  In Federal law and regulation, the term "information technology"
  means any equipment or interconnected system or subsystem of
  equipment, that is used in the automatic acquisition, storage,
  manipulation, management, movement, control, display, switching,
  interchange, transmission, or reception of data or information. 
  This applies to an agency and contractors under a contract with an
  agency.  The term "information technology" includes computers,
  ancillary equipment, software, firmware and similar procedures,
  services (including support services), and related resources.

  Each Federal agency has been required to comply with the guidelines.

  However, most people knowledgeable about the requirements of section
  508 would agree that its enforcement has been ineffectual at best.

  The guidelines became part of the Federal Information Management
  Regulations (FIRMR) in 1988.  In 1996, Congress eliminated the FIRMR
  in an effort to streamline the government procurement process.

  On January 28, the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 (S-1579)
  was introduced in the Senate.  As currently written, section 508 of
  the act would require the Access Board to issue regulations on
  access to electronic and information technology one year after
  enactment and would charge the Board with processing complaints
  regarding inaccessible technology purchased by the Federal

  In April 1997, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo introduced similar
  legislation in the House to improve Federal agency compliance with
  section 508; the bill would direct the Office of Management and
  Budget to set up uniform procedures for agencies to report their
  compliance and to provide written verification of their compliance
  each year.  It would also give OMB the ability to monitor and
  enforce compliance as needed.

 3.  The Americans with Disabilities Act.

  According to a September 1996 letter from Deval L. Patrick,
  Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division of the
  Department of Justice to Senator Tom Harkin.  State and local
  governments entities subject to title II or places of public
  accommodation subject to title III of the ADA that use the Internet
  to provide information regarding their programs, goods or services
  must be prepared to offer those communications through accessible
  means.  Such entities may provide web page information in text
  format that is accessible to screen reading devices that are used by
  people with visual impairments, and they may also offer alternative
  accessible formats that are identified in a screen-readable format
  on a web page.

  Instead of providing full accessibility through the Internet
  directly, covered entities may also offer other alternate accessible
  formats, such as Braille, large print, and/or audio materials, to
  communicate the information contained in web pages to people with
  visual impairments.  The availability of such materials should be
  noted in a text (i.e., screen-readable) format on the web page,
  along with instructions for obtaining the materials, so that people
  with disabilities using the Internet will know how to obtain the
  accessible formats.

III.	Conclusion

 Why is all of this important to you?  First, there are millions of
 people with disabilities in the United States alone whose technology
 needs are not being fully met.  Companies that meet those needs will
 have a strong competitive advantage over other companies who do not. 
 Second, unless you want to miss out on the lucrative Federal
 government technology market, you need to pay attention to the access
 needs of people with disabilities.

End of Document
Received on Thursday, 26 March 1998 13:52:01 UTC

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