Access Ready Government Article

Access Ready Government
When the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990, the Internet as we know it today did not exist as the ubiquitous infrastructure for information and commerce. Neither did the information technology-driven workplace. Today the Internet and information technology plays a critical role in the daily, personal, professional and civic life of Americans. This also encompasses more and more the workplace and how the government does business. Increasingly, many public entities under Title II of the ADA are using websites to provide public access to their programs, services, and activities. To support these activities the internal or employee facing operations of government are driven by information technology. An Access Ready Environments policy is intended to advance accessibility across the web and information technology.

Many websites and the information technology used in the offices of public accommodations render use by individuals with disabilities difficult or impossible due to barriers imposed by technology that does not allow for use in conjunction with the adaptive technology available to people with disabilities. Being unable to access websites and information technology puts individuals with disabilities at a great disadvantage in today’s society, which is driven by a dynamic electronic service delivery model and workplace. The Access Ready Environment is one where website and information technology accessibility is designed in from the outset and is not an afterthought as it is so often today. A government that embraces an Access Ready policy can accomplish this over a five-year budget cycle without real difficulty.

For many, it is now difficult to imagine a world without the unprecedented access to information that the web provides. Why would it be acceptable not to provide such access to people with disabilities? No other minority would stand for such limitations and society would not allow such a thing. It is a fact that the Internet is dramatically changing the way that governmental entities serve their constituents. Public entities are increasingly providing their constituents access to government services and programs through their websites. By adopting an Access Ready Environments policy government can achieve and maintain accessibility on the web and through their information technology. Becoming accessible is only the beginning. without policies in place to maintain it, the effort is wasted.

Through government websites, the public can obtain information or correspond with local officials without having to wait in line or be placed on hold. They can also pay fines, apply for benefits, renew State-issued identification, register to vote, file taxes, request copies of vital records, and complete numerous other everyday tasks. The availability of these services online not only makes life easier for the public, but also enables government to operate more efficiently and cost effectively for government to ignore people with disabilities as a constituency for goods and services is a tremendous mistake. This minority now includes twenty-five percent of the general population according to the Centers for Disease Control. An Access Ready Environments policy moves government in the right direction.

The disability community, including their friends and families, now represents significantly more than 25% of the electorate. People with disabilities represent a vast untapped talent pool ready to join the workforce. Given the rehabilitation funding spent by the government, it is ridiculous not to seek out qualified individuals with disabilities. What is needed is the adoption of an Access Ready Policy that applies to information technology across the environment. The promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide an equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities to participate in and benefit from all aspects of American civic and economic life will be achieved in today’s technologically advanced society only if it is clear to the government that their information technology systems must be accessible.

Douglas George Towne

Chair/Chief Executive Officer – Access Ready Inc.