Request for timely implementation of the new standards
Chairperson Melick, honorable members of the United States Access Board, good morning. My name is Brian Landrigan and I am the director of sales and marketing for TPGi, a small consulting firm. Our headquarters are in Nashua, NH, and we are solely dedicated to providing consulting services in the areas of application accessibility for software development companies and website accessibility for companies needing to create accessible web properties. I appreciate and thank the board for this opportunity today to provide public comment on the second Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that includes a revised draft of updated accessibility requirements for information and communication technology covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
Negative impact of out of date standards
First, I would like to commend the Access Board and the Telecommunications and Electronic and Information Technology Advisory Committee for their diligence in developing and bringing to public the updated requirements. In our business, we are acutely aware of how the older standards lacked acknowledgement of the vast changes in information technology that has occurred over the past decade. My peers and I at TPGi applaud your efforts to make the internet and information technology in general more accessible for the most disengaged segment of our population – people with disabilities. The simple act of creating new standards and opening the dialogue within industry is sparking a fervent interest in many of our clients that did not exist prior to this. We are experiencing first-hand a new energy and enthusiasm for providing a more open technology world. The original announcement from TEITAC in April, 2008, was warmly welcomed by our business, our clients and our competitors. We see that as a watershed date for the accessibility business.
Slow progress affecting business uptake
Unfortunately, nearly 4 years have passed since that announcement. While we all understand that sometimes government moves at a slower pace than commercial businesses, the fact that the proposals of TEITAC have not yet been implemented is disappointing. Some of our clients are openly questioning now whether they needed to spend the funds necessary to implement the changes we and TEITAC recommended. To us, there are three points to be made regarding this:
- The delay in implementing the Section 508/255 ICT recommendations is having an adverse effect on our business and the business of consulting companies such as ours who have invested in training, development, tools and other resources to become expert at accessibility.
- We are not looking for business justifications for accessibility…things like cost of ownership models or return on investment. It is our responsibility, selling accessibility consulting services, to create that information for our clients. We need you to focus on the guidelines.
- Further delays are discouraging and deterring many companies and people who are accessibility proponents. These are the people you are failing to support by not implementing the new guidelines.
Delay in implementation negatively impacts all stakeholders
I would like to take a few moments to expand on these points. First, let me discuss the adverse effect on our business. I recognize this is somewhat self-serving. However, our entire business is accessibility consulting, built on the belief that companies doing business with the federal government would need services such as we offer because federal agencies would insist on conformance to the new Section 508 standards. We perceived a knowledge gap between the existing guidelines and the new guidelines and moved quickly to fill that gap and we have been successful. We continue engaging prospects and clients eager to learn how to comply with the federal procurement mandate and how to create a more accessible technological environment for their customers. However, with the delay in adoption for the new standards, we have clients who are second-guessing their decision to implement the changes to their development and testing departments based on our recommendations. Further, we are now seeing clients postpone adoption of the recommendations, literally waiting to see if the adoption of the new Section 508 guidelines will be further delayed or even canceled. Please act swiftly to counter this perception.
Secondly, the business justification for adoption of the new Section 508 standards. We are concerned that the lag time in adopting the new standards is related to getting them “perfect”. There are numerous comments and concerns regarding cost of implementation of the new guidelines and whether this places an undue fiscal burden upon agencies and businesses. This delaying tactic is frequently employed by special interest groups to make us question whether a practical application of something new is reasonable. This has occurred in the past in discussions for equal rights for minorities, women and other disenfranchised groups. Our point is that the implementation cost should be an area that the free market, composed of experts in accessibility and our clients is clearly capable of creating a value proposition demonstrating any cost is outweighed by additional benefits. We can demonstrate that today and this should not be a gating factor in the new Section 508 moving forward.
Thirdly, you are exhausting well-minded people who want to embrace accessibility and universal usability by further delaying the implementation of the new guidelines. In our work, we come in contact with product managers, developers, quality assurance professionals, procurement specialists, directors of accessibility, CEOs, COOs, CFOs, etc. A number of them are excited and enthusiastic about putting their products and their companies on the front line of greater access and opportunity for people with disabilities. They are doing it for a myriad of reasons; it is the “right” thing to do, it is the law, it enhances their business, it improves their marketability, it is a selling point. Having people and agencies within their government who feel as they do provides them with a satisfaction that we are all “pulling together on the same end of the rope”, that we are sharing a common goal. This is immeasurably helpful when they encounter others within their own company opposed to accessibility for financial or logistical reasons. As many of you can empathize I am sure from your own experience, they are “fighting the good fight” and it is rewarding. But when you are on the front lines, fighting the good fight for a common cause, it is imperative that you know you have the support of those “behind the lines”. Without that support, the fight is empty and impossible. Without the passage of the new Section 508 standards, you are telling those “front line” people that you are questioning your resolve….that you are hesitating to wholeheartedly support them. This is not a good message.
Please move these important standards forward
Once again, I want to personally thank the members of the TEITAC committee for the enormous effort put forth to get us to this point. I also want to thank the Access Board and its staff, as well as other federal agency volunteers for their diligent efforts. This is significant progress of which you should all be justifiably proud. The new Section 508 standards will provide a dramatic improvement in the lives of people with disabilities, particularly in respect to access to technology and information with respect to a more open government. In that case, we all win. Please re-energize yourselves and move this very important set of standards forward so everyone can enjoy the benefits. Thank you for your time and consideration.