Beyond 508

GCN photos by Henrik G. DeGyor

EPA's Erin Conley tracks Superfund facts and figures nationwide with PopChart tool

More ways to access the Web means Treasury agents are more likely to use their PDAs in the field, deputy CIO Mayi Canales says.

Assistive technology helps with data management word processing and other task, users say

Agency managers have found bonus capabilities in the compliance software they bought last year to meet Section 508 accessibility deadlines. Several related their experiences this month at the opening of the General Services Administration's Assistive Technology Showcase.

The Environmental Protection Agency bought PopChart charting software from Corda Technologies Inc. of Lindon, Utah. Now EPA is using the application to aggregate information about its various Superfund activities.

PopChart 'really puts power in the hands of managers,' said Erin Conley, program analyst for EPA's Office of Emergency and Remedial Response. 'Everybody is on the same page. Everybody is looking at the same data.'

Each night, the 10 EPA regional offices upload information from their Oracle Corp. database systems, nicknamed WasteLANs, into the national Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Information System, or CERCLIS.

PopChart extracts data from CERCLIS into Microsoft SQL Server and automatically generates visual representations using the Microsoft Component Object Model and Extensible Markup Language under Microsoft .Net, Conley said. Managers who want details can click on map regions to see how the figures were derived.

All work stops

Before PopChart, EPA staff twice a month had to stop working on other projects to organize the Superfund data, program analyst Walt Johnson said.

'It just shows you how primitive the process was before,' Conley said.

The staff had to produce new fact sheets and charts for each state, which was the most tedious task, Conley said. Every state has dozens of projects and each detail, from location to project status, had to be graphed, formatted and packaged by hand.

Guy Wall, an Army Materiel Command computer scientist, said he needed to generate Section 508 compliance reports about 300 Army Web sites without having to contact multiple network administrators and page designers.

He automated 508 verification through a server application, AccMonitor from Hiawatha Island Software Co. Inc. of Concord, N.H.

'With AccMonitor, you can log into the site and view the reports,' Wall said. Otherwise, 'you have to sit down and manually compile everything. We're trying to come up with a standardized approach where everybody is on the same scale.'

Marilyn Estep, a computer specialist at GSA's Center for IT Accommodation, said she has found the WordSmith toolbar for Microsoft Word benefits anyone who has trouble with writing composition.

The toolbar, developed by textHelp Systems Ltd. of Antrim, Northern Ireland, can pronounce words, predict words in a series, select homophones and construct reports. It also helps workers who speak English as a second language, Estep said.

Bruce McFarlane, acting director of the Agriculture's Department's Technology Accessible Resources Gives Empowerment Today center, said normal business gets done faster with 508 technology.

Mayi Canales, the Treasury Department's deputy CIO, said one interesting side effect of 508 compliance has been the increasing use of personal digital assistants and wireless devices by Treasury agents in the field.

Small and slow, but better now

'They asked us to make sure there are alternative methods of accessing the Web,' Canales said. Because PDA displays are small and their access rates slow, the effort to improve their accessibility has benefited the government.

'We've actually come a long way toward developing what field agents need to do their jobs with remote devices,' she said.

Jennifer Sheehy, senior policy adviser for a presidential task force on employment of adults with disabilities, said she could type only 28 words a minute before sustaining a spinal cord injury.

'With assistive technology, now I can type 150 words a minute,' she said. 'It makes things easier for all people, and possible for people with disabilities.'

Sheehy said agencies' overall business processes will benefit, too, because 'companies are not going to make two products, one to sell to the government and one to sell to their private clients.'

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