Assistive Technology Re-authorization Act Introduced in Senate

Casey, Collins Introduce Bill to Expand Access to Assistive Technology for Seniors and People with Disabilities

Legislation Would Help Seniors and People With Disabilities Maintain Independence

US Capitol DomeWashington, D.C. – Today, June 13, 2019, U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Susan Collins (R-ME), the Ranking Member and Chairman of the Special Committee on Aging, introduced the 21st Century Assistive Technology Act that would increase access to assistive technology—devices or services that help seniors and people with disabilities to maintain their independence and live where they choose.  The bill, which comes following a May 22nd hearing in the Aging Committee on the topic, would also help reduce the low employment and high poverty rates of older adults and people with disabilities by helping them live independently and maintain employment.

“Assistive technology helps millions of people live independently, remain engaged in their community and improves the quality of life for seniors and people with disabilities,” said Senator Casey.  “It is important that we update this bill to support the advances in assistive technology over the last 15 years, so that those who need it can be full participants in every aspect of their lives.”

“As our population ages, the need for care and support is increasing,” said Senator Collins.  “Advances in technology are working to bridge the ‘care gap,’ improving function in activities of daily living, helping to manage multiple chronic conditions, reducing risk of hazards, and making homes safer for seniors.  The 21st Century Assistive Technology Act would help to ensure that seniors continue to have access to these life-changing technologies to help them maintain their independence.”

The 21st Century Assistive Technology Act (S.1835) Act would update the Assistive Technology Act by clarifying that the program serves all people with disabilities, including veterans and older adults who developed disabilities later in life. The Assistive Technology Act would also increase the funding authorized for programs that serve rural areas. Assistive technology refers to any piece of equipment, product or service that helps someone with a disability or functional limitation accomplish their daily needs such as wheelchair ramps, hearing aids, screen readers and even smart phones.

This bill is supported by the Assistive Technology Act Programs, the Association of University Centers on Disabilities, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the American Association of People with Disabilities, The Arc of the United States, the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools and CAST.

Please contact Senator Collins office to receive an accessible version of the proposed 21st Century Assistive Technology Act.

Senate Hearing Focuses on Assistive Technology

Woman preparing a mealOn May 22nd, the United States Senate Special Committee on Ageing held a hearing which discussed How (Assistive) Technology Can Help Maintain Health and Quality of Life.

Committee Chair Maine Senator Susan Collins noted in her welcoming remarks, “…with 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day, and one out of five Americans set to join this group by 2035, we are in the midst of a major demographic shift. The fastest growing segment of our population are Americans age 85 and older. While aging brings opportunity, it also comes with increased risk of multiple and interacting health conditions that can lead to disability, at times requiring long-term care, and making it more difficult to age at home.” She further noted, “Advances in technology are working to bridge the “care gap,” improving function in activities of daily living, helping to manage multiple chronic conditions, reducing the risk of hazards, and making homes safer for seniors. Not only has technology helped seniors age in place, but it is also making it possible for individuals to move out of nursing homes or other institutionalized settings back into their own homes.”

Witnesses at the hearing included:

Joseph Coughlin, PhD, Director, MIT AgeLab, Cambridge, MA; Cara McCarty, Curatorial/Director, Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, New York; Brenda Gallant, RN, Executive Director, ME Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, Augusta, Maine, and; Robert (Bob) Mecca, Executive Director, Life and Independence for Today (LIFT), St. Marys, PA.

Use this link for more information and to view a recording of this hearing…

 

JAN Spring Newsletter published

Job Accommodations Network - JAN - logoThe Job Accommodations Network (JAN) has published their latest JAN ENews to their website.

Topics include:

  • The Path to Reassignment as an Accommodation
  • Giving Hiring Preference to People with Disabilities
  • Cognitive Impairment and the Interactive Process
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome: Not So Forgettable to Some
  • Can’t Ban Fragrances? Consider a Fragrance Free Zone

Other articles include events “E-Vents” and information from the JAN Blog and the Consultants’ Corner

Use this link to access the latest JAN ENews...

New law promises to make federal websites more accessible

From the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT):

The Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA)

US Capitol DomeThe year 2018 closed with the passage of the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (21C-IDEA) in December, which promises to make federal websites more accessible, user friendly, and secure.

This new law requires federal agencies to modernize the websites and digital services they offer, according to eight specific criteria, including accessibility for people with disabilities. All federal agencies in the Executive Branch must already meet the accessibility standards of Rehabilitation Act Section 508, as codified in the Section 508 Rule published by the U.S. Access Board.  However, 21C-IDEA is noteworthy for several reasons, including its emphasis on increasing agencies’ compliance with Section 508.

Within 180 days of the law’s passage, all new and redesigned federal websites must comply with the new criteria, and agencies must submit plans to Congress for how they will accelerate the use of electronic signatures.

21C-IDEA also requires federal chief information officers (CIOs) to coordinate with other executives and ensure that departments plan adequate funding and resources to execute these requirements.

The provisions include several significant requirements to make federal websites more user friendly, usable, and robust for all users, including a requirement that digital formats of all paper-based forms be available within two years. Under the requirements of 21C-IDEA, federal websites must:

  • provide a customized digital experience to individual users
  • maintain a consistent appearance
  • be fully functional and usable on common mobile devices
  • use an industry-standard secure connection
  • contain a search function that allows users to easily search content intended for public use

These user-friendly requirements overlap substantially with principles of Universal Design, and their use by federal agencies should help make federal websites easier to use for everyone, including people with disabilities.

 

Maine DOE Launching a New Website

Maine DOE logoThe Maine Department of Education will be launching a new website on Friday, September 28, 2018. Over the course of the summer months, Department staff have been working on updating and re-writing website content for a new website that features an improved search function, a user-friendly interface, and a content management system which will allow Department staff to keep content updated and timely.

The new website will replace the current website found at maine.gov/doe. It will have a similar, yet new, look and feel.

It is important to note that those who have bookmarked links to the Department’s current website may need to re-save their bookmarks when the new website is released because there will be some pages that have a different website address.

To ensure that the field and the public can find information on the new website on Friday and going forward, please send all inquiries, comments, concerns, and questions related to the website to doe.webmaster@maine.gov.

For further questions about the launch of the new website, please contact Maine Department of Education Director of Communications, Rachel Paling at rachel.paling@maine.gov.

Access Board Issues Correction to ICT Refresh Final Rule

US Access Board logoFrom the US Access Board:

On January 22, the Access Board issued a correction to its updated accessibility requirements for information and communication technology (ICT) to restore provisions on TTY access that were inadvertently omitted. The action applies to the final rule the Board published last January to jointly refresh its Rehabilitation Act (Section 508) standards for ICT in the federal sector and its Communications Act (Section 255) guidelines for telecommunications equipment.

The original Section 508 standards and Section 255 guidelines required that devices with two-way voice communication support use of TTY devices which provide text communication across phone connections for persons with hearing or speech impairments. In its ICT refresh, the Board had proposed replacing this provision with a requirement for real-time text (RTT) functionality, a new technology with significant advantages over TTYs. RTT transmits text in virtual real-time as each character is typed, whereas TTY messages can only be sent individually in sequence. Also, RRT technology is directly compatible with wireless and Internet protocol (IP) based networks.

In finalizing its rule, however, the Board chose to reserve the RTT requirement because the Federal Communications Commission had initiated its own rulemaking to address RTT functionality over TTY compatibility in IP-based telecommunication environments. In doing so, the Board intended to add the original TTY provision back into the rule, but the necessary language was unintentionally left out. The recent correction restores the TTY requirement with minor editorial changes for consistency with the new format and terminology of the updated requirements (Section 412.8). It also corrects a couple typographical errors in other sections of the rule. The corrections become effective March 23, 2018 without further action unless adverse comments are received.

For further information, visit the Board’s website or contact Timothy Creagan at (202) 272-0016 (v), (202) 272-0074 (TTY) or Bruce Bailey at (202) 272-0024 (v), (202) 272-0070 (TTY); email: 508@access-board.gov

Legal references regarding web accessibility

US Capitol DomeThe following are on-line resources that have listed and documented historic information about legal issues related to web accessibility. Resources include references to legal cases and rule interpretations. Thanks to several members of the ITACCESS listserv from Educause for assistance in compiling this list.

World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) – Web Accessibility Laws and Policies – lists United States and international governmental policies related to web accessibility, although it is not a comprehensive or definitive listing.

Law Office of Lainey Feingold – Legal Updates – The articles listed on this page are about legal developments related to web, mobile (digital), technology and information accessibility in the United States. These articles include advocacy initiatives by the Law Office of Lainey Feingold and her co-counsel and clients, and also by other lawyers, organizations, and government agencies.

Resources primarily focused on institutions of higher education

ATHEN – Legal news – Focused on Office for Civil Rights (OCR) complaints and resolutions in that have occurred in higher education.

Karl Groves – List of Web Accessibility-Related Litigation and Settlements – last updated 2015.

University of Washington – Legal Cases by Issue – Recent legal actions against higher education institutions related to the inaccessibility of information technology (IT).

University of Minnesota – Higher Ed Accessibility Lawsuits, Complaints, and Settlements – List of higher educational institutions face liability for inaccessible web content and technologies.

 

PDF conversion tools and services

Digital DocumentsA frequent request that we receive at Maine CITE is for assistance in converting complex digital documents into an accessible format. Often these are documents that have been converted to Portable Document Format (PDF) and the original document may no longer be available. The requests often come from organizations and institutions that have a large volume of these types of documents and lack the time and skilled personnel to successfully convert these digital documents into accessible digital documents.

Below we have pulled together list of some “tools and services” that can assist in this process. Thanks to Jiatyan Chen of Stanford University, Damian Sian of Princeton University and Tristan Price of Mt. Hood Community College who generated the initial list.

Note that these companies and tools vary extensively and some tools are free and others are fee for service.

Services

SensusAccess – SensusAccess is a self-service, alternate media solution for educational institutions. SensusAccess allows students, faculty, staff and alumni to automatically convert documents into a range of alternate media including audio books (MP3 and DAISY), e-books (EPUB, EPUB3 and Mobi) and digital Braille. The service can also be used to convert inaccessible documents such as image-only PDF files, JPG pictures and Microsoft PowerPoint presentations into more accessible and less tricky formats.

CommonLook – NetCentric Technologies, a global leader in document accessibility, provides software products and professional services enabling faster, more cost-efficient, and more reliable processes for achieving compliance with the leading PDF and document accessibility standards, including WCAG, PDF/UA, and Section 508. CommonLook software makes the creation, remediation, and management of accessible PDF and Microsoft Office documents easier than ever before.

247 Accessible Documents – On-demand Accessible Documents – Upload a Document and receive an Accessible PDF, Accessible Word Document or an Accessible PowerPoint that meets Accessibility Standards & Guidelines 2.0 in 5 days.

inclüd – Accessible content conversion, creation, and consulting services, inclüd provides institutions with a path to accessible information, ensuring that those with exceptional needs can access content tailor made for them.

Equidox Equidox is an automated solution that simplifies the process of discovering, converting, and publishing PDF documents to WCAG 2.0 compliant HTML. Manual PDF to HTML conversion requires a significant amount of time and extensive HTML knowledge. Not only is manual HTML conversion less efficient, but it can also introduce errors. Equidox automates the conversion process, and saves organizations time and money.

BrailleWorks – Braille Works is a solution for repair or remediation of your documents so organizations can meet WCAG and 508 compliance standards. WCAG and Section 508 document compliance can be difficult and navigating these waters is not a job for the inexperienced. Elements of a document such as paragraph structure, tables, charts, lists etc, need to be properly organized and tagged to provide true accessibility.

Tools

Adobe Acrobat Pro DC – The defacto PDF conversion tool. Includes an Accessibilty Checker to assess your PDF files.

axaio MadeToTagaxaio MadeToTag is an Adobe InDesign CS6 to CC plug-in to properly prepare InDesign documents for export as accessible, tagged PDF file – much more easier, faster and more reliable. The tagged PDF complies with the terms of the PDF/UA-Standard, the international standard for universally accessible PDF. PDF/UA is important to all organizations and companies delivering documents which have to be conform to regulations requiring accessible electronic content including WCAG 2.0, Section 508 in the US.

PDF Accessibility Checker (PAC 2) – PAC 2 quickly tests PDF files for accessibility. PAC 2 is used to support expert and affected tests during assessment. NOTE: The company offering this software, Access for All, is based in Switzerland, you may need to use translation to understand the content.

 

New guidance on IDEA

From the U.S. Department of Education

US Department of Education logoThe U.S. Department of Education (on 12/12/2016) made available to the public final regulations under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), aimed at promoting equity by targeting widespread disparities in the treatment of students of color with disabilities. The regulations will address a number of issues related to significant disproportionality in the identification, placement, and discipline of students with disabilities based on race or ethnicity. The Department is also releasing a new Dear Colleague Letter addressing racial discrimination.

Children of color—particularly African-American and American Indian youth—are identified as students with disabilities at substantially higher rates than their peers. It is critical to ensure that overrepresentation is not the result of misidentification, including both over- and under-identification, which can interfere with a school’s ability to provide children with the appropriate educational services required by law. It is equally important to ensure that all children who are suspected of having a disability are evaluated and, as appropriate, receive needed special education and related services in the most appropriate setting and with the most appropriate discipline strategies employed.

This rule sets a common standard for identifying significant disproportionality in representation of students within special education, segregated school settings, and in receipt of disciplinary actions and ensures that school districts where disproportionality is found carefully review their policies and practices to determine root causes and whether changes are needed. The final rule ensures that school districts explore and address situations where the cause of significant disproportionality is due to under-identification of a group as well as over-identification.

Meanwhile, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is also releasing a new policy document to support educators and administrators as they work to identify students’ need for special education [PDF]. This new policy document was created to remind states, school districts, and public schools of their legal obligation to prevent discrimination on the basis of race in special education. OCR’s enforcement experience suggests both over-identification and under-identification based on race are occurring in schools.

For more information: please read – FACT SHEET: Equity in IDEA…

Pre-Employment Transition Services

As posted in the Maine Parent Federation News

High School student working in laboratoryThe Maine Department of Labor’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (or “VR” as it‘s commonly referred to) provides services to transition-age youth with disabilities to help prepare them for employment. Every high school in Maine has an assigned VR Counselor.

With the passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), there’s an increased national focus on making sure that young people with disabilities and their families start career planning early. To support this, VR is partnering with schools and organizations across the state to expand opportunities for high school students to learn about the world of work through “Pre-Employment Transition Services”.

Here are some examples:

  • Job Tours/Job Shadows
  • Job Clubs
  • Mock Interviews
  • Self-Advocacy/Independent Living Skills
  • Group Career Preparation Activities

Additionally, VR has a number of career assessment tools and helpful labor market information that can assist students to learn about education requirements, projected openings, and wage information for their career fields of interest.

To learn more about Pre-Employment Transition Services available in your area please contact your high school or local VR office. A complete listing of offices is available on the VR’s website.

For more information call (207) 623-6799.

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Photo credit: Image licensed by Creative Commons by Speed of Creativity.