The President's New Freedom Initiative: The 2007 Progress Report
Increasing Access through Technology
The Administration has engaged in a multi-tiered approach that enables more individuals to reap the benefits of universally designed assistive technology. These efforts include supporting the development of new technologies while helping to remove the financial barriers associated with their acquisition.
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Promoting Greater Access to Assistive Technology
The President continues to devote significant resources to meeting the diverse technology-related needs of people with disabilities and enabling them to have access to these technology resources.
- On October 25, 2004, the President signed into law the amendments to the Assistive Technology Act of 1998 (AT Act), which empowers the Department of Education to continue to manage programs including the State Grants for AT program. On October 1, 2005, all 56 of these statewide assistive technology programs began implementing new three-year State Plans for Assistive Technology.
- The Department of Education initiated funding for 33 Alternative Financing Programs (AFP) that provide loans to individuals with disabilities. In FY 2006, these programs made over 1,000 loans worth more than $12 million.
- The Department of Education sponsored a national conference on the reuse of assistive technology devices in May 2006 and awarded more than $2 million in grants to support starting or expanding state and local reuse programs.
- The Department of Education will administer an AT Device Reuse Technical Assistance and Coordination Center. The Center will:
- Develop resources and guides on AT reuse to provide practical tips on how to begin, maintain, and expand device reuse programs.
- Examine common problems encountered by reuse programs and possible solutions to solve these problems.
- Work to create state and national device reuse networks.
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Spearheading Revolutionary Technological Innovations
Assistive technology allows persons with disabilities to maximize their independence and integrate themselves into every aspect of societal life.
- The Department of Commerce streamlined accessibility and usability standards of various technology advancements, including electronic voting machines, hearing aids, automatic rich transcription equipment, wheelchair design, and biocompatibility and prosthetic devices.
- The National Science Foundation’s Research to Aid Persons with Disabilities (RAPD) program supports the development of technologies for new and improved devices or software for persons with disabilities through advancement of fundamental knowledge and research grants to undergraduate projects. In FY 2006, $3,346,845 was awarded to these projects.
- The National Science Foundation's Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) Program stimulates technological innovation in the private sector to increase the incentive and opportunity for small firms to undertake cutting-edge scientific and engineering research, including research into prosthetic devices, battery design, and mobility devices.
- The National Science Foundation provides on-going support for the Quality of Life Technologies Engineering Research Center (QoLT ERC), jointly administered by the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie-Mellon University, and maintains partnerships with industry and other universities. In FY 2006 $2.5M was awarded to support Center activities.
- The National Science Foundation’s Research in Disabilities Education Program promotes and funds technological innovations that allow people with disabilities to access science, technology, engineering and mathematics with appropriate assistive devices.
- The Interagency Committee on Disability Research (ICDR) released a compendium of currently funded research projects in the area of assistive technology in order to coordinate funding and reduce duplication.
- The AbilityOne (formerly Javits-Wagner-O’Day) Program promotes technological innovations by:
- Expanding financial support to nonprofits employing people with significant disabilities.
- Opening new Federal contract possibilities, and developing individually-tailored employment options.
- Initiating an engineering design challenge to spawn technological creativity in assistive technology.
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Fostering Policies and Procedures Promoting the Use of Assistive Technology
The Administration continues to make efforts to minimize duplication among the many Federal agencies, the private sector, and non-profit groups in accessing and utilizing appropriate assistive technology.
- The Department of Veterans Affairs convened the White House Conference on Emerging Technologies to bring together leaders in the field to exchange information and facilitate greater cross-disciplinary collaboration.
- The National Science Foundation’s Research in Disabilities Education Program funds awards to numerous universities to train faculty and staff on the use of assistive technology for students with disabilities studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
- The Department of Commerce brought together leaders in the technology field via the Assistive Technology Roundtable to discuss policies impacting innovation, investment, and marketing for disability-related technology products.
- The Department of Commerce, in conjunction with the President’s Committee for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities (PCPID), expanded its assistive technology work to better serve those individuals.
- The Department of Education trained 150 representatives from colleges and universities from around the nation on the importance of assistive technology for students.
- The Department of Health and Human Services completed an analysis of barriers to implementing technology in residential long-term care settings, releasing its Report on Home Modification and Assistive Technology in October, 2006.
- The Department of the Interior has promoted greater awareness of the many uses of assistive technology through its Disability Resource Center, a state-of-the-art facility that assists employees with the use of assistive technology and ergonomic solutions.
- The Department of Veterans Affairs has made substantial progress in the development and use of assistive technology. Examples include:
- Automobile Adaptive Equipment Program giving veterans greater freedom to travel.
- The Center of Excellence on Wheelchairs and Related Technology designing and testing assistive technology that truly works.
- Other technology including video phones, an audible prescription reading device, GPS navigation for the visually impaired, and many more.
- As a follow-up to the June 2006 workshop, “Technology to Improve Cognitive Function,” co-sponsored by the ICDR and PCPID, recommendations will be forthcoming in such areas as:
- Technology for improving function in employment settings.
- Technology for improving cognitive function in educational environments.
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Increasing the Availability of Electronic Information
The Administration has significantly expanded development of web-based content while clustering material by subject in order to enhance ease of use by the reader, including subjects such as civil rights enforcement information, emergency preparedness and response, and health and wellness. This effort complies with Section 508 standards under the Rehabilitation Act and assists people with disabilities who use assistive technology to access electronic information.
- The Department of Labor continues to build www.DisabilityInfo.gov as a one-stop source of disability-related government information.
- The Internal Revenue Service has made hundreds of its tax forms and products electronically accessible and compatible with assistive technology including screen readers and magnification devices.
- The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) has dedicated efforts to help blind and visually impaired individuals gain access to electronic forms.
- The Department of Health and Human Services has made a considerable number of its materials electronically accessible to persons with any type of disability and established a new civil rights web portal on effective communications in hospitals.
- The Department of Health and Human Services developed an online resource to assist families in applying for health and other services for children with disabilities and a “Partners for Recovery” program for those with psychiatric disabilities.
- The Department of Health and Human Services developed an assessment instrument to collect assistive device and environmental information from adults with disabilities and older persons living in the community during national surveys.
- The Department of the Interior has made 840,000 documents available and electronically accessible through its Bureau of Land Management, allowing people with disabilities to use assistive technology to access them for the first time.
- The Department of Labor will expand the DisabilityInfo.gov website by continuing its aggressive partner development campaign and recruiting state and local partners.
- The Treasury Department, through its Alternative Media Center, will make its products accessible to individuals with disabilities using any type of common assistive technology.
- The Department of Health and Human Services will continue to support the national database and resource website on home and community-based services at http://www.hcbs.org.
- The Department of Health and Human Services will undertake the “Healthy Choices through Family History Awareness Project” which will increase awareness of the ways that family history may influence personal health, including the propensity for genetic disorders and other inherited disability.
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Implementing Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act
Under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, Federal agencies must make their electronic media accessible to people with disabilities, at a level approaching that of people without disabilities. President Bush strongly supports implementation of Section 508 and views compliance as integral to meeting the requirements of the E-Government Act that he signed into law in December 2002. An August 2005 memorandum from the Executive Office of the President reminded agencies of their obligation under Section 508, provided information about resources available from the GSA, and called for the continued coordination between agencies, the Chief Acquisition Officers' Council, and the Chief Information Officers' Council.
- The Access Board has provided technical assistance to more than 10,000 callers and has given 80 training sessions concerning Section 508 compliance.
- The Department of Health and Human Services issued a policy statement on reasonable accommodations and trained more than 2,000 managers on the importance of complying with Section 508.
- The Department of Homeland Security established and built a Section 508 Program Management Office, established new procurement procedures, initiated Section 508 outreach and awareness plans, established work stations for equipment testing, and implemented review criteria to ensure compliance.
- The Department of the Interior provided technical assistance and training for employees and program visitors about the need for assistive technology.
- The Department of Justice’s Project Civic Access efforts are resulting in increased accessibility of its websites. Also, its ADA.gov website serves as an information resource with other valuable material to assist with compliance.
- GSA’s Office of Government-wide Policy (OGP) continues to be the Government’s principal advocate and coordinator for Section 508 information, tools, and direct assistance. It accomplishes this by:
- Continuing to host, maintain, and improve Section 508.gov, a comprehensive resource for understanding and implementing the requirements of Section 508. Over 300,000 people per quarter visit the site.
- Providing Section 508 training through the “508 Universe,” a dedicated on-line educational portal providing free training on design of web sites, how to acquire accessible electronic and information technologies, and other topics.
- Providing support to the Section 508 Executive Steering Committee and its working group, focusing on government-wide implementation issues.
- Developing, over the last two years, the Buy Accessible Wizard. This tool assists purchasers of Electronic and Information Technology in 508 compliance.
- GSA will implement planned functionality improvements, including: solicitation language support, usability improvements, and management reports.
- The Access Board is revising and updating its Telecommunications Act Accessibility Guidelines and Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards through the creation of a Federal Advisory Committee, which began meeting in September 2006.
- The Department of Health and Human Services, through the Office on Disability, will:
- Facilitate Section 508 compliance in web design, acquisitions, and enterprise architecture by performing a baseline assessment of web content for compliance with applicable accessibility requirements.
- Fully document electronic and information technology acquisitions regarding Section 508 compliance.
- The Department of Justice will work closely with the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and GSA to develop a set of survey questions to be used for the next survey of all federal agencies regarding compliance with Section 508.
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Creating a Robust Assistive Technology Industry Domestically and Abroad
The Administration has worked diligently to promote opportunities for American companies to expand their reach in this industry both domestically and abroad, linking providers of state-of-the-art assistive technology to individuals with disabilities who need the technology.
- The Department of Commerce has assisted the European Commission on Innovation in understanding the complexities of e-accessibility, resulting in ongoing efforts in other parts of the world to increase electronic access for people with disabilities.
- The Department of Commerce encourages the development of assistive technology patents, resulting in greater direct involvement by small businesses and inventors.
- The National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) of the Department of Commerce has collaborated with the Veterans Administration (VA) on a number of advanced mobility, sensory, and other technologies, and is developing advanced robotic training and lifesaving devices.
- During the coming months, the International Trade Administration of the Commerce Department will acquaint the Commercial Service’s domestic and international offices with the assistive technology industry.
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Agencies from across the federal government have either maintained or expanded their activities under the New Freedom Initiative, and many other efforts are the direct result of following the President’s lead. The following is some of the work that has been done since 2004.
- The GSA Center for Information Technology Accommodation will continue to provide a monthly Assistive Technology Day event to demonstrate the latest assistive technology available.
- The Department of Defense Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program provides technology-related job accommodations to federal government employees filling a total of more than 52,000 requests from military and civilian personnel since its inception. CAP has also:
- Provided online job accommodation information and assessments to millions.
- Conducted regional training sessions for managers and employees in the use of assistive technology and the benefits of the CAP program.
- Increased accessibility to the Military Health System and reemployment assistance.
- Continued to implement its Telework Initiative to expand options of federal employees to work at home or at other offsite locations.
- Enhanced options to enable federal employees to return to work after on-the-job injuries.
- The National Council on Disability (NCD) published a report entitled “Over the Horizon: Potential Impact of Emerging Trends in Information and Communication Technology on Disability Policy and Practice.”
- The Department of Defense will continue to improve and expand its initiatives under the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP).
- The Treasury Department will remain strong in meeting the technology needs of its employees with disabilities and will continue to identify new and innovative ways to be of optimum support to these individuals.
- The Department of Transportation will continue to expand the use of video relay services from Headquarters to field offices where deaf or hard-of-hearing people are employed.
- To assist both employers and employees interested in learning more about assistive technology, the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy will develop materials on the availability of assistive technology in the workplace, including employer-targeted information on technology-related loans and tax credits.
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