WASHINGTON, D.C., April 18, 2000 — Today at the Federal Office Systems Expo (FOSE) 2000, Microsoft president and CEO Steve Ballmer demonstrated Quad Media’s new voting kiosk that will help people with disabilities participate more easily in the electoral process. The booth, developed by Quad Media and implementing EZ Access technology, runs on Microsoft Windows 98, and will be ported to Windows 2000 in the near future.
“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.”
The voting booth Ballmer demonstrated was the debut of an upgraded technique developed by Dr. Gregg Vanderheiden of the Trace Research and Development Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison, which developed EZ Access technology. The kiosk features a three-button accessibility template on top of the traditional touch-screen interface. This physical button structure allows people with fine motor-control difficulties or visual impairments to locate and operate key systems.
“The most important things about voting are matters of security and reliability,” said Bernard LaFleur, president and CEO of Quad Media. “The progress we’re making will enable people with a wide range of abilities to exercise one of their most fundamental American rights — the right to vote.”
Quad Media, whose accessibility products for the voting/election industry are exclusively distributed by Election Systems & Software, Inc., maintains that the necessary stability is provided by the Microsoft Windows operating system, a key factor in marketing the kiosk to the government.
“Government officials want to have something they’re very comfortable with, and have the assurance that it’s stable,” LaFleur said.
“And that’s what the Microsoft platform provides.”
The EZ Access Voting kiosk is fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires:
Ability to view or receive information using different modalities (i.e. visual, hearing) to fit the user.
Ability to operate, control, interact with program/system in different ways to fit the user’s constraints (i.e. wheelchair access).
Systems that do not require users to read them visually.
Systems that can be operated without fine motor control.
Systems that can be interacted with verbally.
Systems that are easy to learn, with cue operations that help the user.
Accessibility issues are becoming more significant as the age of the average American increases. The age of the average voter today is 54, and it is now more important than ever to address the functional limitations brought on by aging. LaFleur predicts that baby boomers will soon demand accessible products as the aging group’s eyesight and fine motor control begins to deteriorate. “These issues must be addressed now, if we are going to be able to keep these people connected,” he said.
The kiosk has text-to-speech capability that boasts high-performance reading of the written questions in speech that seems almost human. Any visually impaired person now has the same access to the information as sighted people. There is also a greater sense of dignity for people who are able to vote on their own, without being dependent on someone else to read and mark the ballot.
In addition, the Windows platform enables programmers to work on the software in an familiar environment, and this provides them with the flexibility and tools to develop the applications that improve peoples’ lives. “Microsoft Windows is the stable platform for us to start with,” said LaFleur. “It’s just like the construction of a house; if you don’t have a foundation to go from, you’ll never get to the roof.”