Clinton Pushes Access

WASHINGTON (07/31/2000) - Agencies have a renewed sense of urgency to provide technology that is accessible to everyone.

President Clinton issued two executive orders on the 10th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act last week that underscore the federal government's push to be a model employer of people with disabilities.

The new policies will emphasize the need to get the technology in place as soon as possible, experts said. That's especially important after Congress moved back the deadline for compliance with Section 508 of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, which calls for agencies to make their technology accessible to people with disabilities.

Clinton ordered agencies to hire 100,000 people with disabilities over the next five years. To support that goal, Clinton directed agencies to submit plans to the Office of Personnel Management by Sept. 25 on how they will put in place the tools and procedures to make it easier for people with disabilities to perform in the federal workplace.

"Bringing in these 100,000 people will place an extraordinary premium on all of us...to move with great alacrity and ensure we have a prompt transition to Section 508," said David Colton, a lawyer with the Information Technology Association of America.

In May, Congress pushed back the deadline for compliance with Section 508 from Aug. 8 to six months after the Access Board releases guidelines for agencies and technology vendors to follow. The reprieve has helped vendors that are working on accessible technology and agencies that are training contracting officers on the new requirements. But it also gave room for procrastination, so the executive orders will help refocus attention, Colton said.

The order to hire 100,000 new employees addresses the shortage of skilled IT employees within government because it draws on an underrepresented pool of workers, said Bill Piatt, chief information officer at the General Services Administration. "There are a lot of skilled IT people out there that are disabled," he said.

In a memo to agencies last week, Clinton also asked for the Interagency Committee on Disability Research to develop a report on the types of technologies that need more research and development, including text-to-speech and speech-recognition software.

"Assistive technologies and products that incorporate universal design principles can significantly improve the quality of life for people with disabilities and increase their ability to participate in the workplace," the memo states.

Clinton also called on agencies to take advantage of new call-center technologies that make it possible for employees to staff the centers from home.

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