Microsoft Helps Train Federal IT Managers in Accessible Technology

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 18, 2000 — In a move that will help the federal government comply with a new law requiring accessibility to all of its electronic and information technology, Microsoft is sponsoring a series of courses to train federal information-technology (IT) managers, solution providers and contractors who serve federal accounts, to ease the transition for compliancy with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Microsoft President and CEO Steve Ballmer described Microsoft’s efforts today during his keynote address at Federal Office Systems Expo (FOSE) 2000, the government’s most comprehensive event for its IT professionals.

“Accessibility is one of the most challenging issues in the federal government as we enter the new millennium,”
Ballmer said.
“Microsoft applauds the government’s efforts to lead the way in requiring accessible technology to be the standard and not the exception. This raises public awareness and fosters marketplace competition to ensure that accessibility leaves the fringe and enters the mainstream.”

Joining Microsoft in this venture are Highway 1, a Washington, DC-based non-profit organization dedicated to educating government about breakthroughs in the technology revolution, and Accessible Systems, Inc., an information technology accessibility consulting firm providing assistance to federal agencies to ensure equal access to technology for people with disabilities. Beginning this spring, a series of three courses will be offered to assist government agencies, as well as federal contractors that provide electronic and information technology to the government, as they move through the initial stages of compliance with the new law. Microsoft will donate $250,000 during the first year of the program to sponsor a state-of-the-art lab designed to allow federal agencies to test any and all software for accessibility.

“There is tremendous interest on the part of federal agencies to ensure that all of their electronic and information technology meet accessibility standards,”
said Christine Hughes, chairman of Highway 1.
“There will be a lot of interest in visiting the lab and actually looking at the various types of hardware and software that are specifically developed for people with disabilities, as well as learning what Section 508 means and how it applies to purchasing.”

The course series, titled
“Unlocking the Possibilities: Accessibility in the Government,”
will be held at Highway 1, which is conveniently located within blocks of the U.S. Capitol and most federal agencies. Accessible Systems is the architect and manager of the curriculum. The classes will include a survey course designed to give federal procurement officers and division managers an understanding of the new law as it applies to software and related assistive technologies; a technical course designed to give IT staff and management, as well as product developers and engineers, insights into accessible software testing techniques and related assistive technologies; and a lab course designed to provide hands-on experience for graduates of the technical course.

“Microsoft has been great in encouraging us to work with other technology companies to show a truly integrated environment in our lab,”
Hughes said.
“By creating a multi-vendor, neutral working environment, federal information-technology managers will feel comfortable visiting the lab.”

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 requires that electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained or used by the federal government be accessible to people with disabilities. The legislation will create binding, enforceable standards and will incorporate these standards into federal procurement regulations. Federal agencies will use these standards in all of their electronic and information technology acquisitions. Consistent government-wide standards will make it easier for federal agencies to meet their existing obligations to make technology systems accessible to people with disabilities and will promote competition in the technology industry by clarifying the federal market’s requirement for accessibility in products intended for general use.

According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, as of 1997 approximately 7 percent of the federal workforce, or nearly 200,000 individuals, is legally disabled.

“The reauthorization of Section 508 demonstrates that the government is serious about equal employment and education for all people,”
said Terri Youngblood, president of Accessible Systems.
“Its final adoption is going to positively affect vendors who will need to make information technology universally accessible. Microsoft already is playing a positive role in this area — the company has spent many years putting resources into making their software accessible.”

Federal agencies must comply with these technology accessibility standards for all electronic and information technology acquired on or after August 7, 2000. On March 31, the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) published proposed standards defining the types of technology covered by the law. The deadline for comments on the proposed rule is May 30, 2000. A final version of the standards will be published in the Federal Register and incorporated into the Federal Acquisition Regulations to help federal agencies determine whether or not a technology product or system is accessible.

For more than a decade, Microsoft has been a leader in making it easier for people with disabilities to use computers and other information technology. Microsoft’s Accessibility and Disabilities Group works closely with product developers and disability advocates to ensure people with disabilities can easily use its software. Along with Windows 2000, a number of Microsoft’s other leading products, including Windows 98, Office 2000 and Internet Explorer, contain features designed specifically for people with disabilities.

In February, WE Magazine, a lifestyle publication for people with disabilities, placed Microsoft first among 10 companies that go above and beyond what is required in the Americans with Disabilities Act when it comes to recruiting and accommodating employees with disabilities. Microsoft was also recognized for developing products for people with disabilities.

Microsoft is also working within the community to expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Last fall, for example, Microsoft and the National Business & Disability Council created the Able to Work consortium, dedicated to increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The consortium’s primary purpose is to develop tools and strategies that will help businesses tap into the pool of over 8.5 million job seekers with disabilities who want to work but remain unemployed.

“The reauthorization of Section 508 will give individuals with disabilities who work for the federal government the ability to become more responsive in the performance of their jobs, and it will enable them to qualify for more jobs within the federal system,”
said Joe Tozzi, director of the assistive technology program at the U.S. Department of Education, which has required software to be accessible to individuals with disabilities since 1997.
“Externally, every government Web site will have the potential to be accessed by individuals with disabilities. The reauthorization of Section 508 will impact everybody’s lives by making them aware of, or at least sensitive to, the needs of individuals with disabilities.”

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