ITI Minority Report for TEITAC

“Minority Report”
of the
Information Technology Industry Council
Submitted by Ken J. Salaets
April 1, 2008

The Information Technology Industry Council, ITI, appreciates the opportunity to submit additional comments to accompany the report of the Telecommunications and Electronic and Information Technology Advisory Committee (TEITAC) entitled “Refreshed Accessibility Standards and Guidelines in Telecommunications and Electronic and Information Technology.”  We support the submission of the report to the U.S. Access Board (hereafter, “Access Board” or simply “the Board”) for the purposes of advancing the Board’s initiative relative to its statutory charter under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended.  Nevertheless, we have reservations or concerns regarding certain provisions and recommendations contained in the report, and welcome this opportunity to bring them to the attention of the Members of the Access Board, its staff, our fellow committee members and other interested parties.

Please note that, in light of the delays that were experienced in finalizing the draft report for committee review and comment, as well as ITI’s obligation to seek input and recommendations from all of our members, we have not had sufficient time to vet all of the comments and suggestions that have been, or may yet be, offered by our members.  Consequently, we are not able to include herein every comment or suggestion that we believe is worthy of consideration by the Access Board.  Accordingly, we respectfully request the opportunity to forward additional comments and recommendations for Board review, recognizing that they may not be included in the final documents that are published and identified as a product of TEITAC or its members.

Who We Are

The Information Technology Industry Council represents the leading global manufacturers and providers of accessible information technology (IT) products and services.  ITI helps our member companies achieve their policy objectives through building relationships with Members of Congress, the Administration and Executive Branch, and foreign governments; organizing industry-wide consensus on critical policy issues such as IT accessibility.  ITI works to reduce barriers that stifle innovation, to increase access to global markets, to promote e-commerce expansion, to protect consumer choice, and to enhance the global competitiveness of our member companies.

ITI has and continues to work closely with the Access Board, the General Services Administration, the Department of Justice and other government agencies, to advance the goals and policy objectives reflected in Section 508 throughout the United States and around the world.  Seven ITI members had the privilege to actively participate as members of TEITAC.  Through the development and promotion of such tools as the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template® or VPAT™, as well as industry best practices, ITI remains committed to supporting public policies and innovating products and services that enable all citizens to fully participate in the expanding digital economy.

Section 508:  An Ongoing Success

By any measure, Section 508 has been successful, and we anticipate that its impact will continue to deepen and expand as the law and corresponding standards continue to be embraced by the pubic and private sectors.  The law has contributed significantly to the worldwide growth of accessible electronic and information technology (E&IT) products and services.  Corresponding standards developed by the U.S. Access Board remain the most comprehensive set of accessibility guidelines for E&IT anywhere in the world, and have been adopted or substantially copied by many state and local governments, a number of foreign governments and by IT companies and other private businesses.

To the Access Board’s credit, the Section 508 procurement standards have achieved considerable momentum and market relevance, due in large part to the “equivalent facilitation” concept and other flexible approaches adopted by the Board.  These provide crucial flexibility needed by manufacturers and service providers for continued product innovation and, in turn, have helped spur growth of the worldwide market for accessible products and services.

The IT and telecommunications industries continue to set the pace in achieving rapid advances of technological development.  The increased demand for accessible E&IT generated by Section 508 and other procurement requirements around the world have helped expand the market for accessible products, resulting in a significant array of products and services that have improved the education and employment possibilities and overall quality of life for people with disabilities and age-related limitations.

Consider:  Almost every major IT company that does business with the U.S. government has established accessibility programs that integrate accessible design into development, marketing and customer support for their products and services.   Section 508 has fostered cooperation and competition in our industry, leading to greater availability of accessible products and services for all customers –government, corporate and individual consumers.  Section 508 has also spurred greater collaboration between E&IT and assistive technology (AT) manufacturers, further expanding options and opportunities.

Even so, we welcomed the opportunity to serve on the TEITAC, to review the standards in light of changes and advances in E&IT.  We recognize, of course, that our work is not done simply because the TETIAC phase has reached completion.  ITI’s members remain committed to helping the Board and staff through all phases of the Refresh process, and offer these comments in that spirit.

General Comments on the Refresh Process

In our view, the Section 508 “refresh” provides an excellent opportunity to build on an already successful set of standards and guidelines and to consider incremental improvements that will ensure that Section 508 continues to remain in focus and flexible in a rapidly-changing global E&IT marketplace.  Accordingly, ITI encourages the Access Board to consider the following as you continue to move forward through this process:

  • For Section 508, we urge the Board to retain the “equivalent facilitation” proviso which, together with the “fundamental alteration” general exception and the functional performance criteria, has enabled manufacturers to explore and develop innovative alternatives to achieving the same or better functional access at a reasonable cost to the government and consumers.
  • For provisions relative to Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, we urge the Board to retain the “readily achievable” guidelines approach, initially recommended by the Board and implemented in the Federal Communication Commission’s regulations, by calling out functional requirements and staying technologically neutral.  This approach has encouraged innovation in telecommunications products and services, and has been effective in helping to create a regulatory environment which enables manufacturers to improve both the ease of use and accessibility of telecommunications products.  Retaining this approach will enable manufacturers to continue to focus their resources on creating accessible solutions for all stakeholders.

General Comments on the TEITAC Report

Economic Impact

This is a critical issue that has remained elusive in part because of the delay in the finalization of the TEITAC report, but also due to the new complexity and significant changes of many of the provisions.  Even so, ITI believes that several impact statements contained in the report are inaccurate, typically understating the cost of the proposed changes not only to manufacturers, but also to Federal agencies.  One example is the impact statement for 3-C: Size, Shape, Location.  The report identifies the impact as: “Minimal: No current requirement in Section 508.”  New requirements that require product modifications and possibly changes to evaluation materials and programs clearly will generate additional costs for manufacturers, and possibly Federal customers.

A second example:  The impact statements in Section 3 only take into account impacts on software and web, failing to consider the potential significant impact on hardware products.  If these provisions do apply to hardware, then they all should be considered “significant.”  Further details are outlined in the next section below.

Clearly, TEITAC did not have time to review the potential economic impact for every proposed change or addition to Section 508, or to achieve consensus on the economic impacts cited in the report.  ITI and possibly other industry organizations anticipate being in a better position to analyze and comment on the impact of the proposed changes in the coming weeks, and will be happy to share that information with Members of the Board, the staff and other interested parties in the coming weeks.

Requirements for User Interface and Electric Content

One area where there was a difference of opinion was the application of the User Interface and Electronic Content requirements to hardware.  For some hardware products, user interfaces are “static” setup or maintenance tools used during installation or maintenance of a product and, as such, may not support direct access or connectivity with assistive technologies (AT).  Additionally, the incorporation of such elements would only drive costs and complexity into the product.  

One such example is the On Screen Dialogue (OSD or Menu) found on many computer monitors.  The OSD is a simple control menu used to set-up the monitor for daily usage.  It is simple firmware “burned” into the systems.  It is static, does not communicate with any attached device, and has no easy way to connect AT.  Should this software be forced to be made accessible when it is not core to the functionality of the system?

Harmonization

The importance of harmonization is recognized and the TEITAC should be commended for its work to engage the variety of accessibility related standards and guidelines, such as TEITAC provision 3U’s alignment with ISO 9241-171.  With that in mind, it should be acknowledged that there are cases where the proposed regulation does not harmonize with accepted information technology product standards such as the difference relative to 1-G text size and the requirements set forth in ISO 9241-4 relating to size requirements for keyboard keycap legends.

Testability

Discussion by the TEITAC regarding testing varied with different levels of expectations relative to complexity, consistency, and repeatability.  However, the committee did not consensus on the method specified for Testability in the “additional information” section for each provision.  These methods were selected by the committee’s Editorial Working Group from the IEEE methodology and applied without full committee discussion and consensus.  ITI believes that in specifying the test method it unduly constrains all parties rather than allowing companies and procurers the ability to choose a test methodology that best suits the product, disability and anticipated usage scenario.

AT-IT Interoperability

TEITAC spent considerable time discussing the implication of the use of the term “must” as opposed to “can” relative to Subpart B, Functional Performance Criteria (FPC).  The report contains the following note at the end of the section:

The Committee was unable to come to an agreement on whether items #1 and #2 above are required (“must”) or an option (“can”).  The Access Board is requested to make this determination.

A primary concern relates to the question of what is reasonably achievable in terms of making a product accessible at the product level and with AT.  In our view, the use of the term “must” places unreasonable expectations that all facets of a product can be made accessible, with or without the appropriate assistive technology.

The issue of AT-IT interoperability for both consumers and AT and IT vendors is biased by past experience.  In the past, application programming interfaces, now commonly called API, did not exist or were inadequate to achieve actual interoperability with AT (such as screen readers) without “customized” solutions.  Consequently, supporting an API was not sufficient to achieve interoperability.  The original Section 508 standards did not remedy the situation because they were relatively weak in the area of interoperability.  TEITAC’s proposed Subpart C, however, contains AT interoperability technical requirements that are significantly strengthened over what is in the existing standard, developed collaboratively by IT and AT committee members.

Newer APIs that either have been, or are being, developed are more robust than many of the APIs used in the past, and use of them could reduce or eliminate the need for custom solutions.  IT products using these newer APIs properly may pass the new requirement (3U) with an increased degree of IT-AT interoperability and thereby eliminate the need for “custom” solutions, as long as the IT and the AT both support the same API.  More IT will support the newer, more robust APIs.  The AT investment will be reused and leveraged by AT vendors, improving the business case for providing greater accessibility for consumers.  So looking forward, there is a higher probability that IT and AT will actually work together based on mutual support of the API.

It is ITI’s recommendation that bullets #1 and #2 at the beginning of subpart D use “can” and not “must” so that IT vendors may identify on their VPATs which APIs they have implemented to support AT, when applicable.

Conclusion

ITI would welcome the opportunity to provide Board Members and staff with additional details and examples relative to the comments highlighted above.  Thank you for your time and consideration.