SSA gets kudos for making systems more accessible

The Social Security Administration last month received the Siemens Award for Excellence
for its use of devices that help disabled SSA employees.

“We’re happy that our initiative and hard work was recognized,” said
Clare McAndrew, assistive technology team leader in SSA’s Office of
Telecommunications and System Operations. “This [$35,000 award] helps us continue to
use current and future assistive technologies to hire disabled workers.”

SSA has more than 60,000 employees, 950 of whom use assistive devices and other
accommodations to ease their access to computers. That includes devices for visually and
hearing-impaired workers and employees with mobility limitations, McAndrew said.

SSA launched its assistive program to meet requirements of the Rehabilitation Act of

The agency at first used a hodgepodge of standalone 286 and 386 PCs running MS-DOS and
terminal-emulation software to accommodate disabled employees, McAndrew said.

SSA installed the new devices while it was deploying more than 1,700 LANs and 56,000
PCs for the $280 million National Intelligent Workstation/LAN program.

“Deploying assistive technologies in a Microsoft Windows NT environment was a big
challenge because there were not many assistive technology software programs that operated
under Windows NT,” McAndrew said. “The agency decided it would not implement NT
without having a solution for its disabled employees.”

SSA worked with vendors to develop applications for the Windows NT platform. The agency
defined user requirements, developed training materials, and integrated and tested the
devices before launching them, McAndrew said.

“Because of this effort, disabled employees received new workstations and
specialized training at the same time as their nondisabled counterparts,” said Martin
Atkinson, chief of SSA’s Specialized IWS/LAN Access Branch. “It was important to
the agency that they worked in an identical operating environment.”

SSA uses 16 such devices, including Job Access With Speech (JAWS) and Telecommunication
Device for the Deaf (TDD).

JAWS, developed by Hunter-Joyce Inc. of St. Petersburg, Fla., translates words on the
screen to a voice synthesizer.

It also creates a 40-character braille equivalent on a pad near the keyboard so blind
workers can read the words there, McAndrew said.

TDD, developed by Microflip Inc. of Glenn Dale, Md., uses an internal modem that lets
the computer connect with other TDD devices through the phone system. Users communicate
through the company’s WinTalk NT software, which lets them maintain a phone book and
dial in and out to customers and clients, McAndrew said.

SSA’s assistive technology software runs on 100-MHz Win Laboratories Ltd. 1100 PCs
with 64M of RAM and 2G hard drives. The voice-recognition software runs on 233-MHz Dell
Computer Corp. OptiPlex PCs with 128M of RAM and 2G hard drives, McAndrew said. Win
Laboratories is in Manassas, Va.

Siemens Nixdorf Information Systems Inc. of Burlington, Mass., gave SSA the award at
the SAP/Stevie Wonder Vision Awards program in New York last month. The Siemens
program, in partnership with SAP of Walldorf, Germany, promotes the use of innovative

Pop music star Stevie Wonder and Siemens president and chief executive officer Edward
Blechschmidt presented McAndrew with the award and a $35,000 check.   

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