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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
500 Oracle Parkway
Redwood Shores, CA 94065
Mr. Louis V. Gerstner, Jr.
Chairman of the Board and CEO
New Orchard Road
Armonk, NY 10504
Mr. Scott McNealy
Chief Executive Officer
Sun Microsystems, Inc.
901 San Antonio Road
Palo Alto, CA 94303
Mr. Eric Schmidt
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.
Washington, DC 20005
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
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
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
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
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.
Judith Heumann Marca Bristo
Assistant Secretary for Chairperson
Special Education and National Council on Disability
U.S. Department of Education
cc: Honorable Robert Dole, Esq.