[nfbwatlk] How States Can Make Their Digital Offerings Accessible to People With Disabilities, Route Fifty, July 30 2015

Nightingale, Noel Noel.Nightingale at ed.gov
Tue Aug 4 16:09:12 UTC 2015


How States Can Make Their Digital Offerings Accessible to People with Disabilities
By Dave Nyczepir
July 30, 2015

States should craft policies ensuring people with disabilities have equal use of digital products and services governments procure, according to a National Association of State Chief Information Officers brief.

The first installment-released Thursday, the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act's signing-of a two-part publication urges clarification of muddled information and communications technology (ICT) accessibility requirements.

Through "policy-driven adoption for accessibility" states tell the marketplace what to do, but not how to do it, according to the brief, boosting innovation, increasing customers and reducing legal liability.

Think of it as the digital equivalent to curb cuts, ramps and railings for people with disabilities, per NASCIO:

Without ICT accessibility, people with disabilities (PwD), who represent approximately 19% of the US population, may be severely restricted in their ability to use and interact with information technologies. This can create barriers to employment opportunities, social networks, and interaction across a broad spectrum of services and resources that others take for granted. In the public sector, such barriers restrict citizens' ability to access and interact with digital government.

Added benefits from improving ICT accessibility include improved search engine optimization from use of alternate text and captioned video and the ability to advertise as being socially responsible.

NASCIO notes a "significant uptick" in discrimination complaints and lawsuits as the PwD community's patience wears thin.

Updated technical standards for public and private website accessibility are expected to be issued by the Department of Justice later this year.

While most states have addressed ICT accessibility in some manner, according to the brief, they procure from suppliers whose products and services fail to meet their requirements.

Legacy systems governments use are not always easy to retrofit, but an alternative, the HTML5 development platform, was designed with accessibility in mind.

Some of the onus rests with companies, who don't always have positions or departments devoted to supporting accessibility, so they must be challenged, the brief states.

Most states try to make vendors comply with accessibility technical standards like U.S. Section 508 with marginal success, as NASCIO's infographic suggests:

Instead, NASCIO holds governments should require additional information from companies about their "ability and commitment to produce accessible offerings in a consistent manner over time."

"States have laws in place that apply to accessibility, but have often struggled to address accessibility requirements as part of IT procurements," said Doug Robinson, NASCIO executive director, in a statement. "State CIOs, working alongside state procurement officials, have a real opportunity to change the current accessibility landscape to better benefit the citizens they serve."

Dave Nyczepir is News Editor for Government Executive's Route Fifty.

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