Section 508: Feds push for industry shift

Section 508: Feds push for industry shift

By Tony Lee Orr

GCN Staff

Rebecca Ogle couldn't see over the podium as she appealed to government offices to push suppliers for hardware and software that the nation's disabled can use.

'Lack of access to IT is as much of a problem as physical inaccessibility,' Ogle said from her wheelchair. The top of her blonde head barely reached the podium, constructed for standing speakers.

The federal government is the nation's largest employer and buys the most information technology, said Ogle, executive director of the Presidential Task Force on the Employment of Adults with Disabilities. She spoke last week during the Interagency Disability Educational Awareness Showcase in Washington.

Market power

'Through our dollars we can drive the market,' she said. 'The bottom line is if they want to do business with the government, they'll need to make sure that their products are accessible.'

In informational materials that the General Services Administration, Education Department and other agencies are issuing to help federal offices comply with the Section 508 requirements, there is a strong suggestion that federal buyers check the accessibility of products before making a purchase [GCN, Sept. 11, Page 17].

When Education bought a financial package from Oracle Corp., neither it nor any other program the department considered met some basic accessibility requirements sought by Education, said Glen Perry, a senior procurement official at the department.

Education told Oracle they would get the financial systems contract only if the company agreed to build in accessibility functions over time, Perry said.

By March, procurement officers from 250 government offices will begin undergoing training with an eye toward Section 508 issues, said G. Martin Wagner, GSA's associate administrator for governmentwide policy.

But there are reasons to embrace accessibility other than because amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act mandate it, Attorney General Janet Reno said.

Citing the 2000 Census, Reno said that 75 percent of the country's 30 million disabled are either unemployed or underemployed. Conversely, agencies remain under a presidential directive to hire 100,000 people with disabilities over the next five years and are facing a dearth of IT workers, she said.

Retrofitting software and hardware for those employees is expensive, Reno said.

'Accessible design is good design,' she said. 'It's not expensive. It's not difficult. And it's the right thing to do.'

Those who want to sell technology to the government should begin making accessibility issues part of design rather than an afterthought, she said.

Ogle sees that day coming: 'In the task force, we see the future: No boundaries. No barriers.'

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