Just announced: Level Access and eSSENTIAL Accessibility agree to merge! Read more.

By Debra Ruh, Chief Marketing Officer for SSB BART Group Inc.

It was discouraging to learn that the DOJ delayed revising the regulations implementing title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, meant to establish requirements for making the goods, services, facilities, privileges, accommodations, or advantages offered by public accommodations via the Internet, specifically at sites on the World Wide Web, accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Lainey Feingold, an attorney that represents persons with disabilities under federal and state law, wrote a blog about the delay. In it she says; “Earlier this month the United States Department of Justice admitted what many of us have suspected: we will not be seeing web accessibility regulations in the United States for commercial and public entities any time soon. Some time in 2013 at the earliest.” For the entire blog please visit: http://lflegal.com/2011/07/web-delay/.

The Department of Justice carries a lot of weight all over the world and many of us were hopeful when they announced the plan to revise the regulations. It is critical that all American have access to the Internet, Communications and Technology (ICT) and that includes social media. Our world has gone digital and to not include citizens that need accessibility is expanding the digital divide. Many people feel that the agencies are becoming less accessible and compliant because of funding issues. When we leave people out because of inaccessible ICT everyone fails. Not only is this a digital divide issue it is a major social inclusion issue.

I have been a technologist for most of my career and have built huge ICT projects. If we had been told 15 to 20% of the people will not be able to use your technological solution because you FORGOT to make it accessible , the team would have been stunned. Frankly we wanted everyone to use our systems and the entire team would have been shocked to know that many users were not going to get access.

When I founded TecAccess back in 2000 (formerly named Strategic Performance Solutions) we created a fast, cool website. It was so cool that you needed a very fast communication system to fully access our website. Our potential clients were large businesses and they would have enough bandwidth. Of course, we didn’t consider how people would access our website when not in the office. The funny thing about this story is that I was creating a technology firm that employed technologists with disabilities. It never occurred to me that the site was not accessible. At that time, we were not focusing on accessibility we were building websites and eLearning courses. So imagine my surprise the first time that I spoke to Larry Scadden, the former director of the National Science Foundation. Larry was an amazing leader and also happened to be blind. He had heard about my work and tried to get access to the website and found it almost completely inaccessible. He told me the only data that he could get from the site was the name of the company. Everything else was inaccessible. We reacted quickly and created a text only site (smirk) – we have learned a lot since that day.

That also started my journey to assure ICT is fully accessible yet not “dummied-down”. For years tools have allowed us to create nifty, cool, amazing and fully accessible websites. In April, TecAccess joined forces with SSB BART Group and we educate, consult, test and train organizations to assure full accessibility to ICT. As ICT continues to expand and broaden people with disabilities are continuing to be excluded due to inaccessibility.

When DOJ delayed this ruling it was discouraging because many feel it’s as if they are saying that this issue is not important. If that is true then I have to firmly disagree because everyone MUST be included in every aspect of society. The United States has always led with our disability and accessibility legislation. We cannot afford to delay the DOJ revisions. The DOJ has to take a leadership role and assure that Americans with disabilities have the same access as American’s without disabilities. American’s with disabilities can drive innovation, creativity and full inclusion if given a chance.