by Billie Jean Keith, President, ACB Government Employees
Government employees who are blind and use computers for essential functions of their jobs are losing ground. State and local government employees don't even have Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act to depend on, at least not yet. A few state and local governments are developing regulations based on Section 508, but this is a beginning process.
Section 508, in my opinion, has no teeth. And it will have no teeth until blind and visually impaired computer users covered by this statute let the government know. I don't mean your supervisor in your office; I mean the person in Washington, D.C. who is responsible for Section 508 compliance. They are not hearing from us, therefore they assume 508 is working. We know it isn't.
At the annual meeting of ACB Government Employees (which includes state and local government employees), 25 percent of those who attended our meeting and luncheon said they had serious computer access problems at work. "We are being blamed for the software not being usable for blind people," said one Social Security Administration employee, who has worked there for 30 years.
Contractors who develop software applications assure the procurement officers that their software is "508 compliant." We know that it usually is not. And who has the responsibility to figure out how our screen readers and/or magnifying software will work with the unproven technology management has purchased? Supervisors put the pressure on the individual disabled employee, not those well-paid contractors.
ACBGE is gathering the names and stories of people who are having problems because of inaccessible technology they are required to use. ACB member Margie Donovan has filed two Section 508 complaints. She explained that her local office does not have anything to do with her complaint since it goes straight to Washington, D.C. to the person responsible for 508 compliance. Margie has never felt intimidated because of filing the complaints. One was resolved quickly and the other may be headed for a legal remedy. She is willing to communicate with any ACB member who is having similar problems, but emphasizes that a formal complaint must be filed if we are to expect government compliance officers to take notice.
A good way to learn more about this issue is to join the ACBGE Yahoo group by sending a blank e-mail message to [email protected]. Upon receiving a reply, simply return the message and that should be all that's necessary.
Depending on the number of people affected, a strong civil rights attorney may be interested in helping us to take legal action. An organization like ACBGE can multiply the efforts of an individual in remedying this situation. Stay tuned. If you wish to become an ACBGE member for 2007, send a check or money order for $15 to ACBGE Treasurer Kathy Brockman, 2735 S. 61 St., Milwaukee, WI 53219-3002.