White House promising more attention to 508

Thursday - 4/29/2010, 6:42am EDT

WFED's Jason Miller with Special Advisor the President Kareem Dale

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

The Obama administration record thus far in ensuring new Web sites are accessibility to people with disabilities hasn't been very good.

Initial releases of Data.gov and Recovery.gov, for instance, fell short of the requirements under Section 508 that mandate accessibility for people who are blind, deaf or have other disabilities.

While the White House has since fixed these issues, Kareem Dale, the White House special assistant to the President on disability issues, is working with fellow senior officials and the Chief Information Officer Council to ensure there are no future problems.

"No one is ever perfect. We will have some hiccups and we've had some hiccups and we might have some hiccups in the future," Dale says in an exclusive interview with Federal News Radio after the recent Telework Exchange conference in Washington. "As we educate people more and as they learn more about 508, we will work with Vivek [Kundra] , Aneesh [Chopra] , and our new media team, Macon Phillips at the White House. They all understand and are extraordinary committed to making sure the Web sites we put up are 508 compliant."

Dale, who is blind, adds that while it can be difficult work to comply, the goal is to ensure 508 requirements are considered on the front end of planning and not as an afterthought.

One way his office is promoting the need for front-end planning is through meetings with the CIO Council.

Dale says he recently presented to the group about Section 508 and need to refocus on meeting its requirements.

"The CIO Council created a sub group to work on disability tech issues including 508 and to come up with some solutions," he says.

He says the CIO's effort comes on the heels of the advanced notice of proposed rulemaking to update the 508 standards. President Obama also issued an executive order in October requiring agencies to hire more people with disabilities.

Dale couldn't comment on the notice because OMB is reviewing comments, but says overall there is a lot of optimism about the changes.

"We are working with many of the top disability advocates in the technology field and they are very excited about our commitment to this," he says.

Dale adds that his office also is working the Justice Department to update a survey of federal agency compliance with 508. The law requires DoJ to update the survey every other year, but the department hasn't done a new one since 2003.

"We have not been the administration that has not put out the report for the past [six years] ," he says. "DoJ by the Attorney General and Tom Perez in the civil rights division are very committed to getting reports out that we need to get out and improving our reporting on 508 and compliance."

Dale says agency compliance with 508 shouldn't be too much of a stretch anymore. The law is almost 10 years old and technology has progressed to the point where assistive software and hardware are far more commonplace.

In fact, Dale teleworked three days from home during the snow storms that hit Washington in February.

"There was nothing I was unable to do," he says. "I was able to access our server, all of my documents. I had full access to e-mail and I was able to communicate with other members of the White House. It was really extraordinary experience to be able to do that and get through our security procedures with all of my special software that I have on my computer."

Dale, however, has the benefit of having a team of technology experts dedicated to making sure his assistive hardware and software works well.

"I've spent seven years at a large law firm in Chicago and it's about the same," he says. "There I had the ability to work from home. We had laptops and I had the ability remotely access the system and it's the same we have here at the White House. The access was 100 percent excellent in both situations."

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