Tech Vendors Urged to Make Technology Accessible

WASHINGTON (04/18/2000) - Attorney General Janet Reno on Tuesday detailed new government regulations requiring technology vendors interested in doing business with the government to make more products that are accessible to people with disabilities.

Reno delivered her remarks in a keynote address here at a federal tradeshow dubbed FOSE 2000.

Specifically, Reno went through the highlights of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1998, which is available on the Department of Justice Web site at www.usdoj.gov.

The law requires federal agencies to make their own technology efforts and resources, both internal operations and external contacts with citizens, more available to people with disabilities.

Section 508 is now being finalized through government directives. And Reno's Department of Justice recently delivered to President Clinton an evaluation on the level of accessibility among government agencies.

Although specific to government agencies, the new regulations are really designed to spur broader efforts to make technology more accessible, Reno emphasized.

"Making technology accessible does not have to be expensive" or burdensome, she said.

But Reno stopped short of saying that the government would mandate new accessibility regulations on the entire technology industry. "We are not regulating," she said.

In crafting the legislation, Congress instead was looking to provide incentives that would make the technology industry voluntarily develop new accessible technology.

For instance, federal contractors do not have to make their own sites more accessible. But at the same time, their government customers will be looking for new ways to make entire offices more usable by people with disabilities.

"Section 508 is a recognition that people with disabilities should not remain an afterthought," Reno said.

Still, Reno maintains that the disabled population has been an afterthought, evidenced by the fact that about 75 percent of people with disabilities are either unemployed or underemployed.

More information about FOSE 2000 is available at www.fose.com. FOSE runs April 18 through April 20.

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