AN OBSCURE regulation requiring federal agencies to make their websites accessible to people with physical disabilities by June 21 offers private sector CIOs a road map for how to make their companies’ sites accessible to disabled employees and customers.
The regulation, which carries out a law known as Section 508, requires hardware, software and websites in most government agencies (some military functions excepted) to be accessible by the disabled. Standards accompanying this rule spell out what that means?for instance, installing automated screen readers to describe graphics or providing closed-captioning of online employee training videos. So-called accessible technologies have existed for years but haven’t been easy to integrate with mainstream applications. Now software vendors who count the feds among their customers have responded to statute-driven demand and upgraded common systems, applications and tools to work more easily with accessible products.
Private sector CIOs can use the Section 508 tech standards to guide their own deployment of these newly upgraded products and can look to the feds to work out the bugs.
Mike Mason, an attorney in the technology law and government contracts practice groups at Hogan & Hartson in Washington, D.C., says that once accessible technologies come to market, private companies could be held liable under the Americans with Disabilities Act for not using them. There have already been rumblings on this front. Last July, America Online settled a lawsuit brought by the National Federation of the Blind by agreeing to make its websites accessible for vision-impaired customers. Mason says that if judges must decide whether Web stores should be as accessible as brick-and-mortar ones, they’ll look at how the feds have applied the Section 508 standards for guidance.
You can download the Section 508 technical standards at www.access-board.gov.
WOULD YOUR company have more telecommuters if it got a $500 tax break for every worker with a home office? Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) think so. They’ve proposed a bill offering such a break to companies with employees who telecommute at least 75 days a year. The break would go to either the employee or employer, whoever pays for the home office equipment.
It’s widely believed that telecommuting is beneficial to the environment, helps retain workers and allows employees to balance work and family life. When AT&T studied its own at-home workers in March, it found that they spewed less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and 77 percent of them reported higher productivity. Yet nationwide, only 10 percent of adult workers telecommute, according to the International Telework Association & Council.
Many managers still believe at-home workers are shirkers. John Girard, vice president and research director at Gartner, says educating managers on telecommuting will have a greater effect than a tax write-off. “Alone, this is not enough incentive for businesses to encourage or support telecommuting,” he says.
But, says Rob Traynham, a spokesman for Santorum, the tax proposal is a step forward: “You have to raise awareness and then give them the incentive” to take action.