Braille Monitor                                                 December 2011

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Equal Access to Technology and Programs in the United States

by David M. Capozzi

David Capozzi From the Editor: David Capozzi is the executive director of the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, also known as the Access Board. He addressed the convention on Thursday afternoon, July 7. This is what he said:

Thank you very much. I have bad news; I have no door prizes to give. First I want to thank you for the invitation to speak at your national convention. I want to recognize a few of our board members who are in the audience. One is back in the Utah delegation, Ron Gardner, a public board member. Ron is one of our more vocal and eloquent board members. I appreciate his service, as do the other board members and staff. Also Kathy Martinez has joined us at the front of the audience, Kathy, welcome. Kathy is a board member from the Department of Labor. I also want to give a shout out to my cousin from Buffalo, Angie Robinson, back in the New York delegation. But thank you again for the invitation. I would like to acknowledge the strong leadership that your Washington, D.C., and Baltimore representatives provide to the NFB and its membership led by Dr. Maurer, John Paré, and Lauren, Jesse, and Anil--the entire governmental affairs office--and the director of strategic initiatives.

I only wish that every disability organization could organize as well as NFB does. Personally I have enjoyed a long and interesting relationship with the NFB staff and members. My earliest experience I can remember was back in 1987 with Jim Gashel. Jim was then the director of governmental affairs, and, following passage of the Air Carrier Access Act, I was then director of advocacy for the Paralyzed Veterans of America. Our interest at that time was in nondiscrimination policies and practices, physical accessibility, and strong training in enforcement provisions for the Air Carrier Access Act.

We had a group of disability organizations negotiating with the Department of Transportation for regulations, and, after months of serving on the first regulatory negotiating advisory committee on disability issues, we came to an impasse on exit row seating. When the FAA and the Department of Transportation pulled that issue from our negotiations, they wouldn’t allow us to talk about it anymore. I can remember a few minutes later we went up to my office with the other disability representatives, and it didn’t take long for us to decide that in the spirit of unity we wanted to end the negotiations. I think unity was an important message and is still an important message today. After the negotiations broke down, I learned a few important lessons. Coalition advocacy is difficult, but it’s critical when working with the government. Second, it’s very important to have all of the parties at the table when government agencies are developing regulations, standards, or guidelines. I can talk about that now from a different point of view, working for the government. I really learned that lesson well that day.

My other memorable experience with NFB leadership is when I was asked by the chairperson of the National Council on Disabilities, Sandy Parrino, to speak at the Eastern European Conference on Disabilities in Prague back in 1992. Another featured speaker was the late Dr. Jernigan, and I had the pleasure of spending time with Dr. Jernigan and his wife Mary Ellen. I appreciated that experience as well. We learned a lot. We shared a lot of information, and I know that you miss him dearly.

My advocacy experiences have shaped my management philosophies and actions in government service for the past twenty years with the Access Board. As Dr. Maurer said, the board is an independent agency of the United States government devoted to accessibility for people with disabilities. Since the early 1980s we’ve been writing the nation’s accessibility requirements. These took the form of the earliest requirement, the Minimum Guidelines and Requirements for Accessible Design, which formed the basis for access requirements to federal facilities. We wrote the ADA accessibility guidelines for building facilities and transportation vehicles, and we’re still adding to them to this day. We wrote the Telecommunications Act Accessibility Guidelines, the Section 508 standards for electronic and information technology procured by the federal government, and now the standards for accessible medical diagnostic equipment under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. These requirements, I think, have led to a more accessible America in many respects: no more protruding objects, accessible signage, two-way communication devices in elevators, accessible automated teller machines, and more accessible technology; but clearly we have much more work to do as technology changes and more and more products are being developed without accessible interfaces.

At the Access Board we are currently working on ten different rule-making activities, four of which will directly affect the NFB and its membership. First, we’re in the process of finalizing updated guidelines for transportation vehicles, which for the first time will require automated stop announcements and route announcements on buses. Second, together with the Department of Transportation and the Department of Justice, we have developed new provisions for accessible self-service transaction machines. The Department of Transportation will be issuing a proposed rule later this year under the Air Carrier Access Act using these new provisions (which we helped develop), which were based on our 2004 requirements for ATMs and some provisions for our Section 508 standards. We will follow suit later.

Third, we’ll be proposing updates to our Electronic and Information Technology Standards and our Telecommunications Act accessibility guidelines, combining them into one rule and updating them based on recommendations from one of our advisory committees. Comments were received last year on an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking on the subject. Finally, on July 26, later this month, we’ll be issuing proposed guidelines for accessible public rights of way, roundabouts, on-street parking, and accessible sidewalks.

While I hope that there is much in the proposed rule that you will like, I expect there will be at least two issues we will hear about from you during the public comment period that you may not like: detectable warning surfaces at curb ramps and accessible pedestrian signals. Both were subjects of a minority report that NFB submitted in 2001 to our federal advisory committee on the subject. Peggy Pinder Elliott, NFB’s representative and a former public access member, argued then for a more flexible approach to both issues rather than mandatory installation.

I’d like to close by commending NFB for its leadership on behalf of its members, especially over the last decade on technology and website-access issues. Your advocacy and litigation against AOL, Target, recently McCarran Airport, Ticketmaster, Google, Kindle, and others have helped make significant inroads, especially when regulations were lacking. Ron knows better than most that agencies don’t move as quickly as the public would like, so it’s sometimes incumbent on advocates like you to push agencies and to push the envelope.

However, despite laws and regulations on the books and advocacy efforts, much more remains to be done. The recent report from Dr. Lazar from Towson University in Maryland shows that, despite the clear Section 508 standards we wrote back in 2000, numerous--his study showed 90 percent--federal home pages had one or more accessibility errors. I was pleased to learn that the Access Board site was not one of those. But obviously much more attention needs to be paid to making the laws and regulations we already have work better. I guarantee you that this study has generated serious discussions and hopefully tangible outcomes from the CIO Accessibility Committee and from the White House.

Over the last ten months I have had the pleasure of moderating four listening sessions on Section 508 implementation along with representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Social Security Administration, the General Services Administration, and the Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled. We have held listening sessions in Chicago; Washington, D.C.; San Diego; and most recently Stanford, California. Our last listening session is scheduled for September 8 and will be a virtual session. Hopefully many of you will participate as you’ve already done at the four previous ones. The NFB has been very well represented at all the listening sessions.

We’ve heard important and consistent messages at listening sessions. First, a general frustration with the decentralized enforcement scheme of the law. The way it works now is that every federal agency is responsible for implementing its own requirements. So, if there is a complaint that’s to be had at the Department of Education, it’s the Department of Education’s responsibility to enforce it. You can draw your own conclusions how well that’s working. We’ve also heard concerns about the need for regular survey results from the Department of Justice. Reports have been required every other year since 2000, but only one has been released. We’ve heard the need for greater oversight by Congress and the administration on implementation and a plea from businesses to give incentives and recognition to those companies that have truly embraced accessibility so that they see a return on their investment, and, finally, the need for more training and technical assistance. If the Home Appliance Act is introduced in this Congress or in a future Congress, the Access Board looks forward to playing a significant role in its implementation.

As I described earlier, one of the lessons I’ve learned during my career is the importance of having the government listen to constituent groups. One of the ways that we’ve done that at the Board is by forming advisory committees, and since 1993 the Board has conducted twelve different federal advisory committees involving over 300 organizations, and the NFB was involved in four of those. We value your expertise and your knowledge, and we respect your advocacy positions. I look forward to a continued relationship with your organization with Federationists around the country and look forward to working together with you. Thank you. [Applause]

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