What Is Information Technology Accessibility And Why Is It Important?

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Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 defines accessible information technology in the following manner:

Information Technology Accessibility is ensuring that technology is such that individuals with disabilities have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access and use by those who are not individuals with disabilities.

Why is Information Technology Accessibility Important?
In 2001 it was estimated that with the aging population in the United States, 35% of our population may have some type of impairment and/or disability that would require some type of accommodation. State of Maine 2000 Census figures show that almost 30% of Maine's population was 55 or older, and this does not take into account those individuals who are dealing with physical and mental challenges.
Statistics show that a third of individuals with disabilities are underemployed and require assistance due to their unemployment or non-independent living. Costs of support (estimated to be in excess of $200 billion dollars nationwide) can not be solely based on cost of their assistance, as we must also factor in the loss of these individuals' productivity (such as loss of tax revenues, contributions to society and creation of wealth).

President George W. Bush signing the New Freedom Initiative stated that this initiative would help Americans with disabilities by increasing access to assistive technologies, expanding educational opportunities, increasing the ability of Americans with disabilities to integrate into the workforce, and promoting their increased access into daily community life.

This additional/improved access to technology and related information is critical to Maine, especially with our aging population. Accessible e-government services for our citizens means that those requiring assistance in traveling can obtain services from the State without relying upon outside intervention. Additionally, through Maine's portal, they can obtain information that may improve the quality of their lives in many areas, such as ordering large print library books through the mail, receiving air quality notices, updates on legislative issues and current events within their community, and eligibility for services and medical information, all without having to leave their homes.

Obviously, the same pertains to those with physical or mental challenges who may not be a part of our aging population. Accessible technology can allow a blind student to obtain the same data on the internet that his peers can; provide a mentally challenged individual the ability to receive information in a format that he/she can more easily filter; and provide someone with limited mobility technology that will allow them to perform the same job as fully mobile counterparts.

Eric Dibner, ADA Coordinator the for the State of Maine states that "Access to electronic and information technology for employees and members of the public will increase productivity and, for people with disabilities, access is required by state and federal regulation. Each State worker is responsible for removing discriminatory practices. When we send a document attached to an email, design a web page or site, post a document on the web, or arrange the purchase of electronic equipment or software, we have a responsibility to understand and implement standards of accessibility to ensure the materials are readable by people with sensory, cognitive, and mobility impairments." He makes it clear that accessibility is not only the right thing to do, but it's mandated by law.

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