U.S. Access Board Proposes ICT Update

David Baquis, U.S. Access Board

By Guest Blogger David Baquis, U.S. Access Board

In February, the U.S. Access Board, an independent federal agency, released a proposed rule to update accessibility requirements for information and communication technologies (ICT). Long in the making, this proposal is the culmination of a decade of effort that began with recommendations from an advisory committee organized by the Board, the Telecommunications and Electronic and Information Technology Advisory Committee which comprised a broad cross-section of stakeholders representing industry, disability groups, government agencies, and other countries.

The proposal, which is officially known as a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), refreshes standards for electronic and information technology in the federal sector covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It also updates guidelines for telecommunications equipment issued under Section 255 of the Communications Act of 1934. The Board is updating both documents jointly to ensure consistency in accessibility across the spectrum of ICT covered, including computers, telecommunications equipment, multifunction office machines, software, websites, information kiosks and transaction machines, and electronic documents. Examples of ICT accessibility include captioning of videos, providing controls for captioning and audio description, and compatibility of websites, documents and software with assistive technology.

The proposed rule contains performance-based criteria as well as technical requirements for hardware, software, and support documentation and services. Access is addressed for all types of disabilities, including those pertaining to vision, hearing, speech and manual dexterity.

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Technologies in the Works That Will Improve Quality of Life

The Home Exploring Robot Butler, known as HERB

By Guest Blogger Kathy Pretz, editor in chief of The Institute, IEEE’s member newspaper

Engineers around the world are hard at work developing technologies that will make life easier for those with disabilities. Members of IEEE – the world’s largest professional association dedicated to advancing technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity – are among them. The ones featured here are working on projects to help people with ALS, those who are wheelchair-bound and others who need a helping hand with household chores.

A Communication Device for ALS

Lama Nachman, director of Intel’s Anticipatory Computing Lab in Santa Clara, Calif., is leading the team that is upgrading Stephen Hawking’s communication system and making it open source. This will eventually help others living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – better known as ALS, a neurodegenerative disease that causes muscle twitching, weakness and speech impairment – to better communicate. Hawking, the famous British theoretical physicist and cosmologist, relies on an Intel computer system to type and voice his thoughts as well as navigate computer applications and Internet browsing. His upgraded system reduced the number of words he needed to spell out completely by adding word-prediction technology that is used in smartphones. It also sped up common tasks such as opening a document or browsing the Web.

While the current platform is tailored to Hawking, Nachman says it should be easy to adapt for others by making the word-prediction software more conversational and expanding the motion-sensing capabilities to detect movements beyond a twitch of the cheek, which is how Hawking controls the system. Her team is now working on a facial-gesture recognition tool so that users can, for example, choose an application or open a new document using various facial expressions.

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Empowering Individuals with Disabilities and Employers through the Workforce Recruitment Program

Former WRP participant Robert Zambrana (left) poses with Robert D. Cabana, former NASA astronaut and director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

By Guest Blogger Randy Cooper, Department of Defense Disability Program Director, Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity

Answering the call to serve

“Talent has no barriers” is Robert Zambrana’s favorite mantra. Mr. Zambrana’s determination and drive to succeed from an early age perhaps foretold a young man’s journey to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) where he’d find ample opportunity to show the workforce his many talents and launch a career at the leading agency for aeronautics and aerospace.

At age two, Mr. Zambrana was diagnosed with hearing loss. Zambrana faced discrimination and barriers in school and elsewhere for his disability which he channeled into confidence, a competitive spirit and compassion for others in the face of many challenges. He tells the story of a formative moment in high school when a school counselor suggested that, as a hearing impaired student, Zambrana would never pass the standardized exams he needed to graduate. Zambrana said simply, “Thank you for motivating me to pass this test.” And he did. In short, obstacles to Zambrana are the fuel that drives him to succeed.

After learning American Sign Language and graduating from Gallaudet University, Mr. Zambrana answered the call to public service. During a job fair, he connected with a representative from the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP), which links highly motivated college students and graduates with disabilities to public and private sector employers nationwide. The WRP is geared toward individuals with disabilities who are eager to prove themselves in the workplace. For someone like Zambrana, who was “ready to show the world what I could do,” the program was a perfect fit. It was through his WRP placement at the Department of Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute (DEOMI) where he became a leader among his colleagues and a mentor to others with disabilities. At DEOMI, he remains well-respected for his strong performance, work ethic and love for learning.

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America Works Best When Everyone Is Included

Michael Morris, National Disability Institute Executive Director

By Guest Blogger Michael Morris, National Disability Institute Executive Director

All Americans should have equal opportunity to achieve financial independence, while also acquiring the skills to effectively manage their finances and make informed financial decisions.

Unfortunately, at the present time, this is not the case. Even now, 25 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) promoted “economic self-sufficiency” for people with disabilities, we continue to face many systemic hurdles that block access to a life of financial independence. Overcoming these challenges will not be easy, but today – for the very first time – we have a clearer picture of the path forward – with the release of a new National Disability Institute (NDI) report, Banking Status of Adults with Disabilities: Findings from the FDIC Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households.

Based on data mined from FDIC’s 2013 National Survey on Unbanked and Underbanked Households, the report highlights the nearly 50 percent unbanked and underbanked status and financial behaviors of people with disabilities. This report provides much-needed quantitative data that – until now – has been missing in research being conducted at the intersection of the disability and asset development communities.

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The Fair Housing Act Protects People with Disabilities Against Discrimination

GDAS Bryan Greene

By Guest Blogger Bryan Greene, General Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

I’m Bryan Greene, General Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It’s a pleasure to blog again for in honor of Fair Housing Month. This April marks the 47th anniversary of the passage of the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing because of, among other things, a person’s disability.

In this post, I would like to highlight the issue of housing discrimination against deaf individuals, particularly the discriminatory treatment that prospective tenants who are deaf may experience when they contact housing providers. Deaf individuals who rely on assistive services, such as the Internet Protocol (IP) Relay system to conduct telephone calls, may experience less favorable treatment than non-deaf individuals. Some housing providers may refuse to discuss available units with deaf individuals, or may quote them higher prices or other inferior terms. If proven, such treatment of deaf individuals may violate the Fair Housing Act.

Recently, some of HUD’s fair housing partners have pursued cases involving allegations of discrimination against deaf prospective tenants. These groups alleged that testing they conducted revealed discrimination.

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