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Making Java accessible - letter from the Clinton administration to the industry

There is a whole lot more going on in Washington than Kathleen willie cooperating with the sexgate grand jury and talking with Ed Bradley of CBS News and of course there's Linda Tripp and her interview at a Washington hotel with a reporter from the New York times. *real things are happening on the information access front. On March 9, Judy Heumann, Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitation Services at the U.S. Department of Education, and Marca Bristo, Chair of the National Council on Disability, sent the letter below (with several attachments) to the chief executive officers of five major computer companies, which have formed a partnership to coordinate development of next-generation Internet technologies.

the two are the highest level appointees in the Clinton administration. This letter was sent before the announcement from Microsoft of new java tools and specifications that will work with and *only with Microsoft windows platforms, operating systems and applications.

The letter was addressed to each CEO as follows:

Mr. James Barksdale
Chief Executive Officer
Netscape Communications Corporation
501 East Middlefield Road
Mountain View, CA 94043

Mr. Lawrence Ellison
Chief Executive Officer
Oracle Corporation
500 Oracle Parkway
Redwood Shores, CA 94065

Mr. Louis V. Gerstner, Jr.
Chairman of the Board and CEO
IBM Corporation
New Orchard Road
Armonk, NY 10504

Mr. Scott McNealy
Chief Executive Officer
Sun Microsystems, Inc.
Mailstop UPAL01-501
901 San Antonio Road
Palo Alto, CA 94303

Mr. Eric Schmidt
Novell Inc.
2180 Fortune Drive
San Jose, CA 95131

A copy of the letter went to:

Senator Robert Dole
c/o Verner, Liipfert et al
901 15th Street, N.W.
Suite 410
Washington, DC 20005

Dear : :

We are writing to you as leaders of two Federal agencies which have as their over-arching goal the achieving of equality for people with disabilities throughout the country and the world. The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), in the U.S. Department of Education, seeks to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities through the provision of special education and vocational rehabilitation services, and the conduct of research on disability-related topics. The National Council on Disability (NCD) is an independent federal agency with a fifteen member board appointed by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Its mandate is to promote policies and practices that facilitate the personal independence and economic self sufficiency of America's 54 million people with disabilities.


As officials of the Clinton Administration in charge of national disability policy, we have been following with interest the agreement between your company and four others to establish a far-reaching Internet platform based on Java and related technologies. By joining together to realize this outcome, it is no doubt your hope to pivotally influence the computer industry as a whole, and in particular, the direction that connectivity and telecommunications policies and protocols will take into the next century.

We are writing to you, and to the other members of your five-member partnership, to request, in the strongest possible terms, that you ensure that this new platform includes, in its core design, provisions that will guarantee its accessibility to individuals with disabilities--including visual, hearing, manual, or cognitive limitations. To put it succinctly, the
accessibility of the future Internet to disabled people, if appropriately designed, will have a profoundly positive and far- reaching effect on educational and employment outcomes for the estimated one out of every five Americans who have disabilities. The reverse is also true: if the future Internet moves towards an environment that locks out this nation's 54 million disabled people, the effects on education and employment outcomes will be devastating. It is critical then that any future, Java-based Internet applications be designed according to established and progressing standards of accessibility.

We know that at two of the companies involved in this project, IBM and Sun Microsystems, there are dedicated efforts by special needs staff to include accessibility features in present and future releases of Java development kits. We are concerned, however, that given the fast-track nature of plans by the five-company partnership, accessibility as a design feature will either fall by the wayside or be left out altogether.


The appropriateness of universal design principles in the new connectivity architecture are underscored by a number of recent developments, which have brought accessibility to the forefront of activity both within government and the computer industry.

For example, the U.S. Department of Education has issued specific software accessibility requirements for inclusion in all software development contracts. In meeting these obligations to employees and customers with disabilities, any future software developed under contract for the Department must meet these specific accessibility requirements, which we have enclosed for your information.

Additionally, in October 1997 Education Secretary Richard Riley signed a ground-breaking "Dear Colleague" letter (copy enclosed), which, along with a technical assistance package on access to technology, has been sent to every school district throughout the country. This material emphasizes the responsibility of school systems under several Federal statutes to provide technology access and stresses the desirability of considering access issues as an early and integral part of technology procurement. We see this work as critical to the success of President Clinton's technology Initiative, which calls for every classroom to be connected to the Internet by the year 2000.

The Department has also supported a White House initiative to promote the accessibility of the world wide web. It transferred funds to the National Science Foundation to support the "Web Accessibility Initiative" of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in five areas key to ensuring access to persons with
disabilities: (1) technology development--protocols and data formats; (2) tools supporting content in formats useable by persons with disabilities; (3) technology guidelines; (4) educational outreach; and (5) research and advanced development. The W3C's attention to accessibility-related criteria in the release of HTML 4.0, and their drafting of guidance for Web page authors on accessible Web design (press release enclosed) are two positive outcomes of this effort.

In February 1996 President Clinton signed the landmark Telecommunications Act. This law makes clear that the millions of Americans with disabilities are entitled to share fully in the benefits of telecommunications services and equipment which have become such an integral element of our educational, social, political, and economic future. In adopting Section 255 of the Act, Congress expressed the clear intent that telecommunications services and equipment be made accessible to and usable by all people with disabilities, whenever readily achievable. Through its Tech Watch Task Force, a cross-disability group of technology advisors, the National Council on Disability has provided policy recommendations at every stage of the Act's implementation. In August 1997 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued regulations concerning the accessibility of video programming delivered by telecommunications providers (copy enclosed). In January 1998 The Access Board published guidelines concerning the accessibility of telecommunications and customer premises equipment (copy enclosed).

The National Council on Disability and the Department of Education have also actively promoted the strengthening of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, currently being reauthorized by Congress, which requires Federal agencies to use equipment and data that is accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. Pending legislation assigns new authority to the Access Board for developing technical requirements and new responsibility to the Office of Management and Budget for developing procurement procedures and an enforcement mechanism.

Other countries too, especially in Europe, are also paying more attention to deploying accessible technology, so designing for accessibility would no doubt benefit your partnership in the global market as well.

And lastly, the enclosed letter from the Department of Justice to Senator Tom Harkin provides clear Congressional intent that the Internet must comply with the accessibility provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.


Given the movement toward increased emphasis on accessibility standards in the marketplace, we are asking for your commitment in the following areas:

1. Although two of the members of this consortium (IBM and Sun) have established laudable corporate efforts on access for
people with disabilities, there is no indication that the
five-member group is utilizing developments in this area in
a manner that will ensure platform accessibility by disabled
people. Accordingly, we believe it is necessary to implement
a comprehensive and meaningful partnership policy on
accessibility, including goals, timelines, and resources;
this would include the assigning of responsibility for
accessibility to a top-level team which reports directly to
the partnership leadership, and which can ensure that
decisions affecting accessibility are given high priority.
This should include a high-level accessibility presence
within Netscape, to ensure that future versions of Navigator
and related products meet accessibility standards. For
example, the Java-based Netscape web browser, reportedly now
in development, might implement Sun's Java access protocol
in its core design.

2. Work with organizations representing the interests of people with disabilities to provide training on accessibility
work-place barriers keep almost 70% of working-age adults with disabilities still unemployed or severely under employed. We are committed to breaking down these many barriers which keep disabled people from taking their rightful place as fully participating citizens, and we are asking for your help to bring this about.

>From a marketing standpoint, as individuals with disabilities
increasingly participate in the mainstream of work, education and recreation, purchasers of technology are increasingly inclined to consider accessibility issues when making buying decisions. Accordingly, improvements in accessibility, once regarded by many technology developers as a low priority, will quickly become an important source of competitive advantage for those producers who go beyond the minimum requirements of the law. We are thus moving toward a world and an environment in which accessibility for people with disabilities to all facets of life will be a commonplace, naturally-occurring phenomenon. As this happens, the barriers that keep so many people with disabilities from taking their rightful place as fully contributing members of our society will vanish. It is our hope, that through your leadership, you and the other members of your group will help bring this new era about.

Sincerely yours,

Judith Heumann Marca Bristo
Assistant Secretary for Chairperson
Special Education and National Council on Disability
Rehabilitative Services
U.S. Department of Education

cc: Honorable Robert Dole, Esq.

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