Overview of Accomplishments
The launch of the new state accessibility website is the beginning of "one stop shopping" for those looking for IT accessibility information. The site includes State of Maine and Federal accessibility policies and guidelines; promotes work that has been done in the state relative to the area of accessibility; provides timely accessibility news articles; training resources; and highlights those who have contributed significantly to this most important area.
What if I know of efforts in the area of accessibility that should be recognized?
Web Accessibility Training Initiatives
In addition to launching the new website, the Committee put a great deal of effort in assisting agencies with bringing their websites into compliance with the State's web policy. Multiple accessibility training sessions were held on site; at little to no cost to agencies. Additionally, Leesa Lavigne from the Bureau of Information Services, who has been a champion of accessible web design, held workshops for those responsible for websites to review issues specific to their own sites, allowing them the opportunity to correct those issues while she was there to assist .
Finally, the Committee recently chartered the Web Design Sub-Committee, co-chaired by Leesa Lavigne and Lisa Leahy-VanDeBossch, to provide monthly accessibility training opportunities through workshops and seminars to the State's web designers.
This focus on accessible web sites is critical given the rapidly expanding e-gov services and information available on the web. Over 70% of Maine homes have computers and are connected to the Internet so we can not understate the criticality of providing our citizens with information that is accessible to all.
"TTY training is my favorite job responsibility. A TTY is a telecommunication device for the deaf and hard of hearing. I train state employees in its use, and show them how simple it is to use. I also inform state employees about deafness and deaf culture."
It was recognized that because of the limited number of calls utilizing TTY devices many agencies were not providing regular training for staff where appropriate. The Committee organized a TTY workshop through the Bureau of Rehabilitative Services so multiple agencies could receive this training from Nancy Melanson, the Assistant to the Director of the Division of Deafness.
Nancy not only provided those who were interested in the training the basics of the TTY devices, but she reviewed some basic deaf culture issues with them and demonstrated American Sign Language (ASL).
Nancy has offered her services to the Committee in the upcoming year to do mini-seminars as part of our awareness efforts. During these seminars Nancy will go into more depth of issues facing the deaf community and share more as to the culture; review basic accommodations that may be needed to effectively share information; and again teach some basic ASL.
MLTI (Maine Learning Technology Initiative)
Committee members currently are working with staff from the Department of Education, private sector consultants, staff from local school districts and Apple personnel to support and coordinate accessibility technical assistance for students and teachers with iBooks. Members are also monitoring progress in developing accommodations for those who use screen readers.
Thin Client Graphical Interface
Thin client technology (Citrix, Hummingbird, etc.) is not accessible to voice recognition or screen reader software at the present time. Sheldon Bird from the Department Of Labor and membership from the Committee have lead a considerable effort to open a dialogue with Citrix and Microsoft about the possibility of changing that. The problem rests with not only thin client vendors, but also with the ActiveX Microsoft Windows platform as well. Citrix has verbally committed to making their product fully accessible by mid year 2003 while Microsoft has not yet directly addressed the issue.
Currently we have a policy which includes an accommodation for these graphical interface products that we recognize is not the long term solution that the state requires. And, it has proven difficult to ensure that agencies comply with the policy give the proliferation of this technology throughout the state. The Committee will continue to address instances where agencies may be out of compliance with current policies, but more importantly, we will actively work with vendors to make them aware that we to do business with the State of Maine they must bring their products into compliance.
The Committee tasked a sub-committee with reviewing contract language to see how the State could increase the accountability of vendors, as well as assist those responsible for managing contacts to make sure products and services are in compliance with accessibility standards and policies. Richard Thompson, the Director of the Division of Purchases, and Pauline Lamontagne from the Department of Education headed the effort and recommended that we develop a list of vendors that can provide quality third party testing for accessibility, and then make such testing the responsibility of anyone awarded a contract. Additionally, their recommendation included the chartering of a group to review current policies and standards to see how we might develop a base line to better measure compliance at this time. (This group is chaired by Floyd White, a member of the IT Accessibility Committee, and they plan on completing their work by 2/03)
The diversity of the membership of the Committee in itself provides outreach throughout the State. Beyond that we have made many gains this year in creating working partnerships that allow us to best utilize resources while continually moving forward with the promotion of accessible technology.
Kathleen Powers, a member of the standing accessibility committee who coordinates the statewide assistive technology project for MaineCITE and also partners with the Department of Education, has been invaluable in this past year as we have worked with other states on accessibility issues.
Examples of the previous year's national activities, as well as some current ones are:
- The State's participation in the National Institute on Diability and Rehabilitative Research (NIDRR) web cast on procuring accessible technology
- The Bureau of Information Services demonstration of MS-TAMS in a New York state IT conference
- Maine's participation in a national NIDRR study related to accessibility issues
Throw away the mouse! If your application doesn't work, it has poor accessibility.
The committee also reaches out into agencies and organizations throughout the state to increase the message of accessibility throughout state government. Some examples of those outreach efforts are:
Lisa Leahy-VanDeBosche who is amember of the ISMG, the Webmasters' Group and also is co-chairing the Accessible Web Design Sub-committee, brings accessibility to multiple venues. She headed a process action team to redesign the State Planning website and kept accessibility in the forefront of her work. The team was recognized for their accomplishments at the Governor's annual awards ceremony held earlier this year in Augusta.
- Eric Dibner, the new state accessibility coordinator in the Department of Labor, coordinates with the committee to ensure that we do not duplicate efforts but rather build a consistent message on accessibility in all areas throughout the State of Maine.
Clearly outreach is important to the Committee as we continue to strive to expand our resources to meet our objective of no barriers to information available through the use of technology.