Volume IX Number 2, December 2003

Introducing a special issue of Information Technology and Disabilities:

Public Policy Issues: Access To Information And Information Technology

Guest Editor: Steve Noble
Policy Analyst, Kentucky Assistive Technology Service Network

With this second installment, we conclude ITD's two-part special series on public policy issues. This collection of articles, and those previously published in the October 2003 issue, are part of our special theme to address the public policy aspects relating to the emerging civil right of access to information. In a world so dependent upon the flow of information and the operation of information technology, it is clearly a social imperative that all people are afforded equal access to this vital resource. In particular, those who help shape public policy must collectively safeguard this right and ensure that individuals with disabilities do not find themselves on the wrong side of the "digital divide."

On behalf of EASI, Equal Access to Software and Information, I would like to say a special "thank you" to all the authors who contributed to this series.

Featured Articles

Federal Standard For Electronic And Information Technology

David Baquis
Accessibility Specialist in Technology, U.S. Access Board

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended in 1998 requires Federal departments and agencies, including the U.S. Postal Service, t: o comply with accessibility requirements when procuring, developing, using or maintaining electronic and information technology (E&IT), unless doing so causes an undue burden. This article will discuss the development of the Section 508 Standard and its implications.

Analyzing Recent Americans With Disabilities Act-based Accessible Information Technology Court Challenges

Susan B. Kretchmer
Johns Hopkins University

Rod Carveth
Rochester Institute of Technology

Websites, just like buildings, can be designed to meet the needs of all people, including those with disabilities. The evolution of disability rights laws has resulted in the understanding that access to information and communication is a civil right for people with disabilities. For example, in the digital age, employees may expect an accessible intranet/Internet environment as a reasonable accommodation; students may expect access to distance learning courses; citizens may expect access to Internet kiosks for voting or participating in business or governmental transactions; and consumers may expect access to electronic textbooks and the Web-based environment. Unfortunately, however, web pages frequently contain major access barriers to effective communication and participation in the cybersociety of the new millennium. Consequently, the digital divide will continue to persist if this issue is not addressed through technological innovations, research, education, outreach, and laws.

Web Accessibility In Post-Secondary Education: Legal And Policy Considerations

Kurt L. Johnson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, School of Medicine;
Director, U.W. Center for Technology and Disability Studies
University of Washington

Sharan E. Brown, J.D., Ed.D.
Research Associate Professor, Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, College of Education
University of Washington

Dagmar Amtmann, Ph.D.
Research Assistant Professor, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, School of Medicine;
Assoc. Director, U.W. Center for Technology and Disability Studies
University of Washington

Terrill Thompson

Technology Accessibility Specialist
UW Technology and DO-IT
University of Washington

The rapidly increasing use of the web by post-secondary educational institutions in distance-learning programs, on-campus classes, and as a mode of communication to students, faculty, staff and the public, can present significant barriers to users with disabilities if those websites are not accessible. Federal civil rights laws mandate that individuals with disabilities have access to the information contained on the websites. A few states have gone further and passed legislation or otherwise made policy commitments that require state entities -- which do not always apply to post-secondary educational institutions --to develop and maintain accessible websites. To date, however, there is no federal legal mandate that private or public institutions of higher education make their websites accessible. Despite the lack of a specific legal requirement higher education administrations are increasingly developing and implementing institutional policy that requires websites to be accessible for individuals with disabilities. In this article, we will review relevant federal laws and federal agency guidance regarding the duties of institutions of higher education in the area of web accessibility. We will also review some state laws that may have an impact on post-secondary institutions, and sample some policy on accessible IT developed at the post-secondary level.

Universal Design: Is It Really About Design?

Jim Tobias
President, Inclusive Technologies

Universal design (UD) of information technology products is usually portrayed as either an approach to design or a set of recommended and deprecated features. In either case, the focus of UD advocates has been on design per se. However, there is evidence that informational issues are the principal barriers to broader market success for UD. Consumers (and clinicians, caregivers, and third-party payers) are not sufficiently aware of the benefits of “UD products” or mobilized to shop for them.

Australian Experiences With Accessibility Policies Post The Sydney Olympic Games

Andrew M. J. Arch
Accessible Information Solutions
National Information & Library Service, Australia

Oliver K. Burmeister
Swinburne Computer-Human Interaction Laboratory
School of Information Technology
Swinburne University of Technology, Australia

Australia enacted its Disability Discrimination Act in 1992, prior to the now ubiquitous World Wide Web. However, the "Maguire v. Sydney Olympic Games Organising Committee" High Court case in 2000 clearly demonstrated that the Australian Disability Discrimination Act applies in the online world. While Government in Australia was the initiator of establishing accessibility policy for online activity and eGovernment, many of these policies have remained unchanged since the late 1990s. During 2002, other sectors of the economy have come to the fore with respect to online accessibility policy and 'leapfrogged' the government with policies that sometimes leave the government position looking languid. This paper reviews the current online accessibility policies and guidelines of federal and state governments in Australia and contrasts these positions with the high levels of accessibility expected in the future in the banking, education, legal and multimedia sectors as a result of recent industry policies declarations.

Research On Web Accessibility In Higher Education

Terrill Thompson
Technology Accessibility Specialist
DO-IT, UW Technology
University of Washington

Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph. D.
Director, DO-IT Program; Assistant Director - Information Systems,
Computing & Communications; Affiliate Associate Professor, College of Education
University of Washington

Dan Comden
Adaptive Technology Consultant, University of Washington Adaptive Technology Lab;
Technology Coordinator, DO-IT Program
University of Washington

Several studies have used the automated tool Bobby in evaluating the accessibility of postsecondary educational institutions’ websites to people with disabilities. However, determining many aspects of web-content accessibility requires human judgment. With the present study, two web accessibility “experts” manually evaluated critical web pages of 102 public research universities using a 5-point rating scale that focuses on each site’s “functional accessibility,” i.e., whether all users can accomplish the perceived function of the site. The results of each evaluator approximate a normal distribution, and the evaluators’ results are positively correlated with one another (r = .597), suggesting that the procedure has inter-rater reliability. Also, the evaluators’ combined results are positively correlated with those obtained by using Bobby on the same sample (r = .595). Using these evaluations, the researchers were able to identify a distinct cluster of promising practices in web accessibility.

Factors Influencing Adoption of Wireless Technologies:
Key Policy Issues, Barriers And Opportunities For People With Disabilities

Paul M.A. Baker, Ph.D.
GCATT/Georgia Institute of Technology

Christine Bellordre
GCATT/Georgia Institute of Technology

While wireless communication and other information linked technologies have rapidly achieved widespread levels of adoption, a significant array of stakeholder groups have been effectively excluded, not as much by active intent as by inadvertent oversight and lack of awareness. Many of these technologies routinely used by the general population are frequently inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Barriers to the use of these technologies by people with varying disabilities may be subtle, but never the less very real.

Announcements

Web-4-All: Web Accessibility Through Sight, Sound And Touch

Industry Canada’s Web Accessibility Office is working with other federal government departments to develop accessibility standards for Government of Canada Web sites. It is also heading up an innovative pilot program that is placing more than 1000 assistive technology devices, called Web-4-All, in public Internet access sites across the country. With Web-4-All, users simply swipe a smart card into computers equipped with the technology, and their preferences, such as having text enlarged or read aloud, are instantly loaded.

Call For Articles: Special Issue Of Information Technology And Disabilities

Casting Your Ballot: Access To Voting For People With Disabilities

In past years, ITD has assembled “special issues” devoted to a single focused topic. In recognition of the upcoming 2004 U.S. presidential election, Information Technology and Disabilities invites articles for a special issue to examine access to voting and voting technology for persons with disabilities. This special issue will come out in late October or early November of 2004, immediately before the election.