March 11, 2003 --
Three blind Pennsylvania state employees and the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania are suing the state over a new multi-million-dollar computer system upgrade; blind workers, they say, can no longer read information previously available on the old computer system. The only way blind employees can now check their own payroll information -- information that should be private and confidential -- is by having sighted coworkers check for them.
Two years ago the state signed a $40 million contract with SAP Public Sector & Education, Inc. for a new computer system, including new accounting, budgeting, payroll, personnel and purchasing software, says the suit. The company chose software incompatible with screen access programs. Arkansas state government "ran into similar access problems for blind employees," say those suing. "The chief contractor for that conversion was also SAP Public Sector and Education, Inc." A similar suit in Arkansas is still pending. Read the news release from the NFB at http://www.nfb.org/coming/pa_sue.htm
Software inaccessibility is an ongoing problem, despite laws such as Section 508 of the Rehab Act, requiring Federal government agencies to purchase only accessible software (read more at http://www.accessiblesociety.org/topics/webaccess/sect508.htm). Website accessibility is still an iffy thing as well. "Web usability is three to six times better for non-disabled people than for people with low vision, no vision or motor impairment," reported Jakob Nielsen in a study in the fall of 2001 (read more at http://www.accessiblesociety.org/e_letters/eletter103001.htm )
There are a number of tools available for assessing one's website for accessibility. A-Prompt is one of the newest of these; it's "designed to improve the usability of HTML documents by evaluating Web pages for accessibility barriers and then providing developers with a fast and easy way to make the necessary repairs," say its developers. The software is made available through the joint efforts of the University of Toronto's Adaptive Technology Resource Centre and the TRACE Center at the University of Wisconsin. Partial funding for A-Prompt was provided by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. To learn more about A-Prompt, or to get a free download, go to http://aprompt.snow.utoronto.ca/index.html Visit the Trace Center's website at http://trace.wisc.edu/ Visit Toronto's Adaptive Technology Resource Centre at http://www.utoronto.ca/atrc/