Statement by John Fales

Statement of John Fales, Jr.
Blinded American Veterans Foundation (BAVF)
Columnist, The Washington Times (Sgt. Shaft)

For The Subcommittee On Technology
Committee On Science

U.S. House Of Representatives Hearing On Developing Partnerships For Assistive And Universally Designed Technologies
Persons With Disabilities

Thank you, Madam Chair and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee on Technology for holding this important hearing. There are no words adequate to express the positive impact new technology has had on those individuals with disabilities. It must also be noted, however, that synthesized speech technology developed for the blind has also had a positive impact on the entire world, for instance, voice mail.

Assistive technology has played an important and meaningful part in my life these past few years. My talking computer, scanner, and “pocket-talk”/voice pager have enhanced me professionally as well as avocationally. It is important, therefore, when new telecommunication technology is developed, interfacing with assistive technology for the disabled must take place immediately.

I am a user, not a technocrat. Recognizing that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” I have requested from those with expertise in assistive technology their suggestions and have the following recommendations:

  1. Commit to the full implementation of Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA) and full keyboard equivalence in Internet Explorer 4.0 to ensure full accessibility.
  2. Ensure that MSAA is part of the standard or typical installation of all future Microsoft operating systems, including Windows NT, CE and the successors to Windows 95
  3. Commit to comprehensive use of standard Windows controls or implementation of MSAA in such a way as to grant full access to non-standard controls within all future releases and upgrades of key products beginning with business, reference, education, developer tools and home productivity products.
  4. Maximize accessibility of Microsoft products by committing to develop and implement full keyboard access to all features, continuing to offer customizable displays, and to support speech input/output.
  5. Substantially increase the amount of staff time devoted to accessibility efforts across Microsoft product lines, especially in key product areas such as Windows, Office, IE and education.
  6. Provide full support for MSAA in all developer tools and include accessible design as an important element in presentations to software developers.
  7. Draw upon the resources of organizations representing the interests of people who are blind or visually impaired, to provide training in the access needs of persons with disabilities to Microsoft staff across all product lines, including research staff.
  8. Strengthen the accessibility provisions as requirements of the Windows logo program and make compliance and support of MSAA a mandatory requirement for any application seeking authentication as a Windows compliant application.
  9. Explore staff incentives such as providing bonuses to Microsoft employees who make significant contributions to a product’s accessibility.
  10. Improve Microsoft’s technical and other support provided to screen reader developers to allow them to bring their products to market soon after the introduction of the Microsoft product they are intended to provide access to.

There is strong concern among the disabled community that when Microsoft is the sole provider, as in MSAA, then access to other mainstream products will be controlled or limited by Microsoft. It is essential that mainstream developers coordinate with access developers and not depend solely on Microsoft and MSAA.

Recently, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has published for comment their Final Rule for Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

It is important that this Subcommittee review and ensure that Section 255 of this Act is strong and is adhered to by manufacturers. This section requires assessment of accessibility and compatibility for each product. Furthermore, Section 255 requires that access “cannot be bypassed simply because another product is already accessible.”

People with disabilities experience more unemployment than those people who do not; people with disabilities are disadvantaged more so with the advent of new technological advances. It is always a continuing game of catch-up.

A recent (July 23, 1998) Harris Survey commissioned by the National Organization on Disability (NOD) reinforces the statement. The survey finds that there are significant gaps between the working disabled and the working non-disabled: only 29% of disabled people between the ages of 18-64 work full time or part time, whereas 79% of the non-disabled population work full time or part time (a 50% gap). Significantly, 72% of those with disabilities who are not working say that they would prefer to be working. 34% of the adults with disabilities live in households with a total income of $15,000 or less compared with 12% of the adults without disabilities. About 20% of adults with disabilities have not completed high school compared to 9% without disabilities.

It is imperative, Madam Chair, that the disabled community have immediate access to new technologies so individuals with disabilities have access to productive and meaningful careers.

In closing, I wish to raise a personal quirk. Public Law 93-112, the Vocational Rehabilitation Act, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act mandate that materials should be provided to the blind in alternative format such as on audio cassette. I have yet to receive manuals from Microsoft or other computer hardware or software manufacturers on audio cassette so that I can independently install and train myself on their products and programs.

Thank you, Madam Chair, for this opportunity to appear before you today and for your interest in insuring that individuals with disabilities have access to this wonderful world of technology.