Accessible Technology – Part 3 Interview with 508 Compliance Expert Debra Ruh

In order to gain a different aspect of Section 508 Compliance, I wanted to gain key insight from an industry expert.  One such expert is Debra Ruh founder of TecAccess and now Ruh Global.

Debra-Ruh

Question 1: Debra, as we both know there is much work to be done in the world of Accessibility.  Can you tell our readers why you became involved in Accessible IT?

Answer:   I was always a technologist and my Dad was a technologist before me.  My father passed away in late January 2013 and we will miss him.  My dad gave me the technology bug before there really was technology.  He worked for AT&T and ran their computers – the computer was the size of a huge government building.  Probably now that computing power that he managed in that huge facility would fit on a tiny thumb drive.  My daughter Sara Ruh, 25 years old and born with Downs syndrome inspired me to start TecAccess.  I knew Sara who was capable of great things, even though some experts claimed otherwise. So I decided to prove them wrong, I created a path to empowerment and success for those with disabilities.  I founded TecAccess to acknowledge the contributions of people with disabilities in both the workplace and the marketplace and provide accessibility consulting solutions to companies around the world.

Now I look forward to taking our work to the next level with Ruh Global.  Sara joined me as my CIO (Chief Inspiration Officer) and I will be partnering with many other firms to help spread the word that inclusion, accessibility and diversity is critical for everyone.  The world is a better place when we can all contribute and each person should be allowed to contribute to their fullest abilities.  In-Accessible technology should not get in someone’s way of working and participating in society.  We still have a lot of work to do but I am hopeful that we are on the right track.

Question 2: So what ideas do you have for us to more effectively get the word out to CIO’s in order to get them to embrace Accessible IT?

Answer:  I believe that the only way to move our industry forward is to blend accessibility into the Life Cycle processes.  As long as Accessibility is an afterthought we will not be able to blend it into the process.  We need to make Accessibility part of the process just like Security and Privacy.   We also need to teach accessibility in colleges and universities.  Not just one web accessibility course but accessibility should be in all ICT and engineering courses.   No one should graduate with an ICT or engineering degree without understanding how to assure Accessibility in every aspect of Life Cycle.

Question 3: What would you advise a company just starting down the path to accessibility? Do you take care of the internal documents and applications so you can hire Americans with disabilities, or do you begin with your external facing website to ensure access to your information and the company’s message is reaching the largest audience?

Answer:  Great question – I always advise clients to look at their goals.

  1. Are their goals to employ a diverse population?  Then be sure your career center, job site and HR processes are accessible.
  2. Is your goal to do business with the Federal Government?  Then start by making your products and website accessible and 508 compliant.
  3. If your goal is for Americans to believe your firm is socially conscious than create an inclusion program with marketing programs that include people with disabilities in your advertising, social media outreach and other communications.

Where you start all depends on your goals and that is why I create a road map for my clients to help them prioritize, reduce their risk and create a step by step plan that has tasks, timelines and deliverables.

 

Question 4: Debra, Thank you so much for taking the time to inform our readers about 508 Compliance and the important role it plays! Please take a moment to tell us about your new venture and what we should expect in the near future.

Answer:  Ruh Global is a Strategic Marketing firm that allows organizations to connect and integrate the community of PwD and their families.  Our services will enable corporate and public organizations to easily navigate the legal maze and confusing messages about and from the community of PwD.

Our goal is enable business success through innovative marketing and communications programs that are:

  • Strategically and creatively aligned with corporate goals
  • Seamlessly integrated across traditional and digital mediums
  • Tailored to the specific needs of each client
  • Scalable with measurable results
  • Delivers integration of messaging for all customers, not separate but equal opportunities for different diversity groups

People with disabilities (PwD) represent a very large demographic group that is underserved within typical marketing and communications programs.  Ruh Global can help adjust those plans already underway or help to develop new plans that fully integrate this community into the messaging to create universal customer experience and the best overall business value for their marketing and communications investments.

I will still be active in the ICT Accessibility field because it is critical component to the success of including people with disabilities in every aspect of society especially in meaningful and marketable employment.

Thank you again Debra for your time! Stay tuned for our next post about Section 508 Compliance!!

Accessible Technology – Part 2

In the previous post we learned that Disabled Americans are the fastest growing minority group in America and that 20% of the total population has reported some type of disability and there are still many that are not reported or are counted separately like disabled veterans.  That sounds like a large number but let’s put that number to contrast.

During the 2010 United States Census, there were a total of 17,320,856 Asian Americans. This made Asian Americans 5.6 percent of the total American population. How about Black Americans?  They make up 12.6% of the total population.  So if you combined these two races you would come close to the number of Disabled Americans.

Just think if we built barriers that would not allow Asian Americans like me or Black Americans to fully utilize or leverage information technology.  Not only would it be considered a highly inflammatory discriminatory issue, the contribution to society and information technology itself would suffer a great loss.  Yet we continue to do just that with Disabled Americans.

What is being done?

Due to this growing problem all types of laws have been passed to address this issue.  Today I will discuss Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities. Inaccessible technology interferes with an ability to obtain and use information quickly and easily. Section 508 was enacted to eliminate barriers in information technology, open new opportunities for people with disabilities, and encourage development of technologies that will help achieve these goals. The law applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology. Under Section 508 (29 U.S.C. ‘794 d), agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to access available to others.

This law has been the standard for all federal agencies and the good news is that most all federal agencies have been working towards compliance.  The gap has been in the private sector companies who contract with the government to provide IT services.  That gap is now being enforced as the Office of Management and Budget sent its fourth memo in eight years telling agencies to be aware of and include Section 508 requirements in technology and acquisitions. The difference this time is OMB included a strategic plan with deadlines for agencies to meet.  The DoJ survey and other meetings found “agency Section 508 programs vary widely in maturity, with the primary challenges focused in three areas: understanding and applying standards; defining and measuring program success; and developing the workforce.”

To address those challenges, OMB laid out 11 goals for agencies:

  1. The General Services Administration will develop a plan to improve the Section508.gov portal to be a “one-stop shop” for information.
  2. Agencies will include an accessibility statement on all inter- and intranet websites.
  3. By March 24, each agency CIO shall give GSA the name of their Section 508 coordinator, and when a new coordinator is named, the agency CIO has 90 days to update GSA on the change.
  4. By March 1, the CIO Council’s Accessibility Committee will develop a standard governmentwide template for agencies to report baseline compliance of key measures for websites and procurements.
  5. The committee will create a template for agencies to do a baseline assessment of their 508 programs. The committee then will use the baseline to identify high-risk areas or common areas of needs across the government.
  6. Assessments are due from each agency by Dec. 31.
  7. Starting in third quarter of fiscal 2014, agencies tell OMB how they are improving their baseline 508 assessments.
  8. By June, GSA will update the reference manual for Section 508 coordinators to help them improve their job skills.
  9. By June, GSA will share with the CIO and CAO councils plans to improve buyaccessible.gov, and to increase its awareness across the government.
  10. By October, GSA will update 508 learning courses for acquisition workers.
  11. GSA and the Access Board will collaborate on the best way to get the word out about the new 508 standards once they are finalized

“A comprehensive approach to managing Section 508 along the full IT and acquisition lifecycles of an investment requires a long-term, consistent approach,” the memo stated. “The steps identified in this strategic plan … are the first steps to improving management of Section 508.”

In case you are interested, CLICK HERE to see the official memo

So who will this affect the most in short term?

  1. People who want to do business with the government will need to acquire the skill sets to address section 508
  2. Developers who want to work with the government will need training.
  3. Federal CIO’s will need to become more active in oversight.

 

More helpful Links:

For more information on Section 508 concerning checklists, remediation and monitoring tools, training, etc.  Feel free to email me at doug.loo@Armedia.com or comment on the post so I can share the information.

Accessible Technology

Armedia is breaking down the IT barriers so people with all abilities can realize their full potential.  I became interested in accessible IT back in 1998 when Section 508 was first coming on the scene.  Like most of you, I had never even considered how disabled people leveraged technology, back then the digital divide was about income levels.  As a matter of fact when I think back just twenty years ago I did not know anyone with a disability, now I do not have to look outside my family.  Most people I speak with on the subject share the same experience but never really considered how the disabled population grew so fast.  I can only say it is like watching your children grow up, you really don’t notice when it is happening you just wake up one day have a conversation with your kid and bang it hits you in the face.

The population of disabled Americans has done just that.  Our aging population and being at war coupled with advances in healthcare have all contributed to Americans with Disabilities becoming the fastest growing minority in the United States.

 

Let’s take a look at the numbers:

From the latest census report About 1 IN 5 AMERICANS HAVE some kind of disability and, with the population aging and the likelihood of having a disability increasing with age, the growth in the number of people with disabilities can be expected to accelerate in the coming decades.

Americans-With-Disabilities

  See Source Here

Disability is no respecter of age, sex or race. Even among children ages 6 to 14, for instance, about 5% had some type of disability. Nevertheless, the likelihood of having a disability increases with age— almost 40% of seniors 65 years old and older have a disability

So some 20% of our population has reported a disability, that’s well over 50 million people and of those people 36% and 29% ages 15 to 64 with a severe disability who use a computer and the Internet at home, respectively.

From there you could add people who have a disability but do not care to report like people color blindness.  Roughly 8% of men and 0.5% of women are affected. Therefore chances that your neighbor or one of your classmates is colorblind are very high.

So something as simple as a web form instructing you to push the green button for yes and the red button for no is what I consider an IT Barrier to equal access.  Perhaps if you were colorblind and the form was on your banking site and it was concerning a fee approval you agree.

For more extensive visual disability like blindness I ask that you turn your monitor off and try to navigate your computer and complete a simple task.  In coming articles I intend to provide you examples of simple errors made across multiple file types so you can become more aware of your responsibility to stop building barriers to Information.

Next week I will discuss some of the current Laws, who they apply to, and what you can do to comply.