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Able Tech

Questions and Answers

Q and A - Accessible Electronic and Information Technology

1. WHAT IS ELECTRONIC AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY (E and IT)? E and IT includes products that store, process, transmit, convert, duplicate, or receive electronic information. Examples of E and IT: software applications, operating systems; web-based information and applications such as distance learning; telephones and other telecommunications products; video equipment and multimedia products that may be distributed on videotapes, CDs, DVDs, email, or the World Wide Web; office products such as photocopiers and fax machines; calculators; and computer hardware.

2. WHAT MAKES E and IT INACCESSIBLE TO PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES? E and IT may be inaccessible to people with disabilities if it provides only one way for users to gain access to or manipulate information, in particular, if the ability to use the technology depends primarily on user vision, hearing, or motor function. For example, people who have visual impairments cannot read instructions presented only in a visual format; people who are deaf cannot understand content that is only presented aurally; people who are color-blind cannot discriminate between color-coded options; people who have limited use of their hands or arms cannot use a mouse; and people who use wheelchairs cannot operate a fax machine if the controls are impossible for them to reach from a seated position. Web sites with inconsistent layout, difficult to recognize graphics, and inaccessible language are difficult for all users, but in particular for people with cognitive disabilities and those who have difficulty reading. In addition, if the functionality of a Web site or application is entirely dependent on the use of a mouse, then it may be inaccessible to persons with impairments that preclude the use of a mouse. Many of these barriers can be lowered or eliminated when technology environments are developed using an approach called "universal design."

3. WHAT IS UNIVERSAL DESIGN? It is developing products that are usable to all people, to the greatest extent possible, without adaptation or specialized design. These products accommodate a wide range of individual preferences and abilities. Universal design principles reduces the need for assistive technology, results in products compatible with assistive technology, and creates a product that works better for everyone, not just people with disabilities.

4. WHAT IS ACCESSIBLE ELECTRONIC AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY? Accessible E and IT means that users are able to interact with the technology in the ways that work best for them. Accessible EIT provides information in more than one way such as: auditory feedback from a computer for a person who is blind; closed captioning on a video for a person who is deaf. Accessible EIT may also be compatible with the assistive technology used by an individual with a disability.

5. WHY CREATE ACCESSIBLE E and IT? Just as buildings that have ramps and elevators are more accessible to wheelchair users, accessible EIT is more usable by people with a wide variety of abilities and disabilities. Accessible EIT makes good economic sense. Creating accessible information systems used in facilities and programs requires planning ahead. By applying universal design principles, we can make sure that all individuals can participate. Accessible EIT environments allow all members of the community to participate and share information; it reduces workers compensation costs; in education it lowers the need for special accommodations, and it reduces or eliminates the risk of complaints and potentially costly legal actions.

6. WHAT IS ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY (AT)? Assistive technology refers to products that people with disabilities use to access environments and activities that would otherwise be difficult or impossible for them to access. It enables individuals to accomplish daily living tasks, such as dressing or eating; it assists in communication, and provides greater access to education, employment, and recreation. Examples of assistive technology include wheelchairs, hand controls for cars, communications aids, and hearing aids. Specifically relevant to accessible E and IT are those assistive technology products (sometimes called adaptive technology) that help people with disabilities use computers, software, the Internet, telephones, and other E and IT. In order to use a computer, people with limited hand function may use a keyboard with large keys or a special mouse; people who are blind or have difficulties reading may use software that reads onscreen text aloud; and people with low vision may use screen enlargement software. To communicate by telephone, people who are deaf may use a TTY (text telephone); or people with speech impairments may use a device that speaks out loud as the individuals enter text via a keyboard.

7. WHAT IS AN ACCESSIBLE WEBSITE? An accessible website is one that is designed so that all visitors can navigate the site, access content, and participate in interactive web activities. Accessible websites are those that provide a text equivalent (typically a description) for all non-text elements, such as audio, video, graphics, animation, graphical buttons, and image maps. They also include clear and consistent navigation. Websites designed in this way allow those who cannot see the screen to access the information using assistive technology, for example a screen reader. Accessible websites allow keyboard navigation as well as by a mouse. Information provided aurally is also presented with captions for those who have hearing impairments.

8. WHAT IS THE W3C WEB ACCESSIBIITY INTIATIVE? Many states have adopted Section 508 standards, http://www.access-board.gov/sec508/guide/ or the W3C Web Accessibility Intiative guidelines http://www.w3.org/WAI/ or a hybrid of the two to address accessible Web sites.

9. WHAT ARE THE LAWS THAT PROVIDE GUIDANCE FOR THE ACCESSIBILITY OF E AND IT AT THE FEDERAL AND STATE LEVEL?
A) Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (508) Amendments of 1998 requires that when federal departments and agencies procure, develop, maintain or use electronic and information technology they must ensure that it complies with the Section 508 standards developed by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board), unless doing so would pose an undue burden. The purpose of this law is to ensure that federal employees and members of the public with disabilities have access to the same information and data as employees and members of the public without disabilities. Section 508 is the only federal legislation that defines what accessible EIT is and sets standards for design and procurement requirements. To learn more about Section 508 go to: www.access-board.gov and www.section508.gov.

B) The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination of people with disabilities and requires program accessibility and reasonable accommodations for qualified persons with disabilities. The ADA can be interpreted to apply to information technology and Web accessibility. ADA Home page: www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/adahom1.htm

C) Section 504 (504) of the Rehabilitation Act indicates recipients of federal funds (e.g., educational programs) may not discriminate against people with disabilities based on their disability status. It requires educational entities receiving federal funds to provide program access that is equal, effective, and inclusive and also requires educational entities to provide reasonable accommodations in employment.

D) Section 255 of the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires telecommunications manufacturers and service providers to make their products and services accessible to people with disabilities. E) IDEA 1997 P.L. 105-15 Every student with a disability has a right to access ALL aspects of the general curriculum.

E) Assistive Technology Act of 1998 - the U.S. Department of Education requires that states which receive Federal funding under the Assistive Technology Act give assurances of compliance with Section 508's technical standards. Oklahoma receives this funding, as do all states and territories.

10. ARE THERE OTHER LAWS THAT GOVERN INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY ACCESSIBILITY? A number of states and local agencies have adopted laws, policies, or executive orders that address one or more facets of information technology accessibility. A few states have statutes that require an access clause be included in all contracts for purchase of information technology products (hardware and software). Another handful of states have rules, policies or executive orders that require adherence to access standards for web development. Still other states have less formal guidance encouraging information technology accessibility without identification of specific access standards. Lastly, a few states have laws or policies that require electronic textbook procurement for specific educational entities.

11. WHAT IS SECTION 508? Section 508 is a part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which requires that electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by the Federal government be accessible to people with disabilities. On August 7, 1998, the President signed into law the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, which includes the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998. Section 508 was originally added to the Rehabilitation Act in 1986; the 1998 amendments significantly expand and strengthen the technology access requirements in Section 508.

How do these changes to Section 508 improve upon the earlier version? The 1986 version of Section 508 established non-binding guidelines with no enforcement mechanism for technology accessibility. The 1998 version creates binding, enforceable standards and will incorporate these standards into Federal procurement regulations. Federal agencies will use these standards in all their electronic and information technology acquisitions. Consistent government-wide standards will make it easier for Federal agencies to meet their existing obligations to make their technology systems accessible to people with disabilities, and will promote competition in the technology industry by clarifying the Federal market's requirement for accessibility in products intended for general use. The new version of Section 508 also establishes a complaint procedure and reporting requirements, which further strengthen the law.

12. DOES SECTION 508 APPLY TO FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AND STATES?Section 508 applies to Federal departments and agencies. It does not regulate the private sector and does not apply directly to recipients of Federal funds. States that receive Assistive Technology Act federal funds (true for all states) must assure compliance with Section 508.

13. WHAT DOES SECTION 508 REQUIRE OF FEDERAL AGENCIES AND DEPARTMENTS?Section 508 requires that when Federal agencies develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology, they must ensure that it is accessible to people with disabilities, unless it would pose an undue burden to do so. Federal employees and members of the public who have disabilities must have access to and use of information and services that is comparable to the access and use available to non-disabled Federal employees and members of the public.

14. HOW WILL FEDERAL AGENCIES AND DEPARTMENTS KNOW WHETHER THE ELECTRONIC AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY IS ACCESSIBLE? Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards are established by the Access Board, http://www.access-board.gov/sec508/508standards.htm, to help Federal agencies determine whether or not a technology product or system is accessible. Federal agencies must comply with these technology accessibility standards for all electronic and information technology acquired on or after six months from the date the Access Board issued its final standards (Standards were issued December 21, 2000 and are effective June 21, 2001.) Technology developed or acquired for a Federal agency by a contractor must also comply with the standards. If a Federal agency determines that it would pose an undue burden to comply with the standards, it must still provide information and data to individuals with disabilities through an alternative means of access that can be used by the individuals.

15. ARE THERE ANY EXEMPTIONS TO THE TECHNOLOGY ACCESSIBILTY STANDARDS?A Federal agency does not have to comply with the technology accessibility standards if it would impose an undue burden to do so. This is consistent with language used in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other civil rights legislation, where the term undue burden has been defined as "significant difficulty or expense." However, the agency must explain why meeting the standards would pose an undue burden for a given procurement action, and must still provide people with disabilities access to the information or data that is affected.

16. HOW IS SECTION 508 ENFORCED? Because the Section 508 standards will be incorporated into the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), agencies' procurement of accessible technology will be subject to the same stringent compliance and enforcement mechanisms as other parts of the FAR. There is an administrative complaint process which becomes effective six months after the Board issued its final standards. It enables any individual with a disability to file a complaint alleging that a Federal department or agency has not complied with the accessible technology standards in a procurement made after that date. The complaint process is the same as that used for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, for complaints alleging discrimination on the basis of disability in Federally-conducted programs or activities. It provides injunctive relief and attorney's fees to the prevailing party, but does not include compensatory or punitive damages. Individuals may also file a civil action against an agency.

17. HOW DOES SECTION 508 RELATE TO STATES? States which receive Federal funds under the Assistive Technology Act of 1998 are required by that Act to provide an assurance of compliance with Section 508. Currently all states and territories receive Assistive Technology Act dollars and all have some form of Section 508 assurance. These state Section 508 assurances most frequently take the form of a simple assurance statement with limited or no specifics regarding implementation.

18.HOW IS "STATE" DEFINED AND WHO IS COVERED UNDER THE STATE ASSURANCE? There is no definition of "state" for the assurance and thus there is no clear delineation of who is covered. Those most questionable include agencies that are closely related to state government but might not necessarily be considered the "state" such as colleges and universities, local government and municipalities, local school districts, and other entities that have significant state and local funding.

19. HOW DO THE ACCESS BOARD STANDARDS RELATE TO THE STATE ASSURANCE? The Department of Education, the agency responsible for administering the Assistive Technology (AT) Act, issued guidance letters (June 1999 and April 2000) indicating that state assurances for Section 508 compliance require use of the final Access Board standards. However, a number of states already adopted other types of access standards such as the W3C Web Access Standards in policy or guidelines. Since these standards are similar, it is unclear what action will be taken to align state adopted standards with the Access Board standards. There are also questions regarding the use of the Access Board standards by educational entities to determine the accessibility of instructional technology. The Access Board standards were developed for information technology designed to provide access to federal government information and services by employees and members of the public. It is unclear if these standards are appropriate to use in the determination of accessibility of instructional technology, especially teaching and learning media used with young children. Alternative access guidelines, such as those developed by the National Center for Accessible Media, may be more appropriate for educational entities to use or use of a combination of standards may be the most comprehensive way of assuring accessibility of instructional media. Currently, there is no national consensus on access standards for the full range of instructional technology products.

20. WHAT WILL BE THE ACCESSIBILITY REQUIREMENTS FOR OKLAHOMA STATE AGENCIES AND EDUCATIONAL ENTITIES? For Oklahoma that question can not be answered completely at this time; however, the good news for Oklahoma state agencies and educational entities is that the legislative Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Task Force (established March 2003) will help provide guidance for our state. The task force reviews the intiatives in other states and is reviewing the Section 508 standards as well as the W3C Web Accessibility Intiative guidelines specifically for Web sites. Stay posted to this website for the current information on the EITA Task Force.

21. WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION ON E AND IT ACCESS IN MY STATE OR TERRITORY? Each state and territory has an assistive technology program funded by the Assistive Technology Act. In Oklahoma the office is Oklahoma ABLE Tech at Oklahoma State University. This webpage is provided by Oklahoma ABLE Tech. We are a good starting point for any questions you have about state assurance for Section 508 compliance, any state laws or policies that your state may have regarding information technology access, and other questions about assistive technology and accessible information technology. Additional information about state information technology access laws and policies and contact information for most state programs can be found on the ATAP web site www.ataporg.org.

22. WHERE CAN I FIND INFORMATION ON THE REHABILITATION ACT AMENDMENTS-SECTION 508? http://www.access-board.gov/about/Rehab Act Amend-508.htm

23. WHERE CAN I FIND INFORMATION ON THE TELECOMMUNICATONS ACT (Section 255) AND ACCESSIBILITY GUIDELINES? The Telecommunications Act requires access to new telecommunications and customer premises equipment where "readily achievable." Visit the Access Board site to find information on the Act at http://www.access-board.gov/about/Telecomm Act.htm and the guidelines established by the Board at http://www.access-board.gov/telecomm/html/telfinal.htm

24. WHERE CAN I FIND MORE RESOURCES?Please visit our "Resources" page at http://okabletech.okstate.edu/eit/resources.htm