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How to Make Technology More Inclusive for People With Disabilities

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How to Make Technology More Inclusive for People With Disabilities

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Recently I got to hear a very sharp speaker, Jeff Kline, at a national conference on best practices. He is at the cutting edge of using technology to unlock the potential of people with disabilities. The Program Director of Statewide Electronic and Information Resources Accessibility at Texas Department of Information Resources, Kline is also the author of “Strategic IT Accessibility: Enabling the Organization.”  Before government service, Mr. Kline managed IBM’s Worldwide Accessibility Consulting and Business Transformation initiatives. His 26 year IBM tenure also included management in industrial design, software development, and system usability.

Personally, I am a disaster when it comes to technology. But it is a lifesaver for many people with disabilities. It can help a lot of people with disabilities excel and contribute to society. Thus, I asked Jeff some questions, and got some very helpful answers.

1. What is Information Technology(IT) Accessibility and Inclusive Design?

a. IT accessibility means that people with disabilities (PwDs) can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with information technology, allowing them to participate equally in the economic and social aspects of society. It also has benefits to others, such as people with changing abilities caused by aging. Inclusive Design ensures that products and services are accessible and usable by everyone, including PwDs.

2. IT has become an integral part of today’s society. It touches nearly every aspect of daily life. Can you describe some of the challenges that IT presents for people with disabilities?

a. For example, blind individuals rely on an assistive technology called a screen reader to interact with a website or application. The screen reader speaks what is displayed and identifies each element on the screen such as a link, or a picture, table, radio button form field, etc.  If the website or application is not coded to include accessibility specifications, the assistive technology cannot identify and read these elements to the user in a meaningful way, rendering the site very difficult, or in many cases, impossible for a blind person to use.

b. Individuals with mobility impairments may use other types of assistive technologies such as head trackers or mouth sticks which also rely on proper accessibility coding. Without captions in videos, Deaf users have limited access to video information. Despite significant progress, many manufacturers and software development organizations still do not understand, plan for, design, or develop their technology with inclusive design in mind.

3. What are underlying reasons why so many IT products and services are not fully accessible to PwDs?

a. While technology can still be a challenge, particularly for large “legacy” offerings where the original code may have been created before accessibility criteria was required or understood, there is now a robust body of knowledge and tools for developing and delivering accessible offerings. The underlying reason I see is the lack of commitment, culture, policy, and governance structure within organizations to put policies in place that consistently drive the development of accessible or inclusive products and services.

4. You’ve talked about the challenges for PwDs and the underlying reasons for inaccessible IT. Are there any other impacts that our readers need to be aware of?

a. Inaccessible or non-inclusive IT creates barriers to education, training, employment opportunities, online government services, social media, and other aspects of life for PwDs that many of us take for granted. Additionally, public and private sector organizations also must realize that IT accessibility barriers are considered discriminatory under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), and there has been a strong uptick in IT accessibility related lawsuits. The US Department of Justice is more frequently intervening in these lawsuits on behalf of plaintiffs.

5. Can you tell us a little about your role within Texas state government, and what is being done there to close this broad gap of making IT accessible to PwDs?

a. My role is to provide leadership, guidance, and oversight in IT accessibility to over 170 Texas state agencies and publicly funded universities, to help facilitate the development, procurement, and use of accessible IT.  Responsibilities include rulemaking, policy development, consulting, outreach, and accessibility services and information.

Additionally, I am deeply involved in the integration of accessibility criteria into our state IT procurement processes to help obtain more accessible products and services from the vendor community. For our vendors to be able to consistently produce and provide accessible IT, they need to consider IT accessibility at a strategic  level, so we have recently implemented a new step in state IT procurement using the Policy Driven Adoption of Accessibility (PDAA) model developed by myself, my counterparts in Minnesota and Massachusetts, a group of state CIOs, and the National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO). The model requires vendors to complete a self-assessment at the beginning of the procurement process.

The self-assessment calculates the maturity of their IT accessibility policies and programs using PDAA’s maturity model. Our customers can use the results to gauge vendors’ abilities to build and report about accessible products and services. Most importantly, we want all vendors to use the assessment results as a guide for implementing accessibility practices and policies within their organizations, ultimately resulting in more accessible products and services in the long term.

Want to know more? Buy Jeff’s book on Amazon.

Learn more at RespectAbility.

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