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Southwest Educational Development Laboratory



Information Technology Technical Assistance and Training Center (ITTATC)

Shelley Kaplan, MSccc
Research Associate
Georgia Institute of Technology

Rapid advances in our nation's electronic and information technology (E&IT) industries have revolutionized the way we work, play and communicate. Current and emerging technologies have created opportunities for some but barriers for others in our society. In his recent remarks, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps stated that "...[The] IT Economy, the Digital Age, the World Wide Web or whatever you will, is rocketing us into cyberspace at the speed of light. It's valuable cyberspace, because what we find there are the education and information and commerce and jobs of America's future. Those who get there win; those who don't get there lose. I want to contribute to making sure we all get there, and that in the vanguard, traveling at the speed of light, is America's disability community" (Copps, 2001).

In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. Under Section 508, Federal agencies must provide employees with disabilities and members of the public access to this technology that is comparable to the access available to others. Section 508 was enacted to eliminate barriers in information technology, to make available new opportunities for people with disabilities, and to encourage development of technologies that will help achieve these goals (1998 Amendment to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, 2000).

To address the barriers and broaden the opportunities, the Georgia Institute of Technology's Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access (CATEA), with funding from NIDRR, has established the national Information Technology Technical Assistance and Training Center (ITTATC).

ITTATC believes that there will be positive change in industry's ability to design accessible products and services. Toward this end, ITTATC promotes the creation, use and dissemination of accessible E&IT by providing technical assistance, training and information. ITTATC also seeks to facilitate accessible E&IT services and products by influencing:

  • How new products are designed
  • How existing products interface better or incorporate accessible design features
  • Industry and state level practices by documenting "successful approaches for achieving accessible E&IT products and services that are accessible to and usable by a broad range of people with disabilities"

Established in November 2000, the ITTATC works with a distinguished group of leaders in education, disability, research, industry, and policy to develop and implement comprehensive approaches designed to accomplish ITTATC's objectives. Following are ITTATC's partner organizations and their roles:

  • The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) assists with linking members of the information technology and telecommunications industry with the ITTATC and the information and services resulting from the ITTATC. ITAA also assists with dissemination to industry through various conference opportunities.
  • The World Institute on Disability (WID) collaborates in the development of training materials, needs assessment, curriculum development, training and other dissemination activities.
  • Community Options. Inc. provides assessment of and dissemination and training to the state level information and procurement officers. They collaborate to develop an assessment protocol for the states on Section 508.
  • The Trace Center provides ongoing consultative services and training related to the research results from two Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers, one on Information Technology Access and one on Access to Telecommunications.
  • Inclusive Technologies provides ongoing consultative services related to accessible design and advances in the telecommunications and information technology industry.
  • Regional Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers (DBTACs) provide information, technical assistance and referral on Sections 508 and 255 to consumers, disability-related organizations, state procurement officials, and businesses about accessible electronic and information technology and telecommunications equipment and services.
  • The Association of Tech Act Projects (ATAP) collaborates with RESNA on a series of activities to identify and respond to information, training, and technical assistance needs of State Chief Information and Procurement Officials about accessible electronic and information technology.
  • National Advisory Council (NAC) is comprised of representatives from the electronic and information technology industry, federal and state government, and disability organizations and advises the ITTATC project in promoting the intent of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act.

Over the next five years, ITTATC will:

  • Create and maintain a Website that is a portal to information and resources about E&IT
  • Conduct an array of training and technical assistance programs on designing accessible products and services. These programs will be developed and conducted in partnership with ITTATC's collaborators, in multiple formats (including Webcasts, online courses, workshops and presentations), for people with disabilities and for E&IT and telecommunication manufacturers and developers;
  • Promote opportunities for positive interactions between industry, government and disability leaders to increase mutual understanding; and
  • Evaluate and track results of project activities with regulators, industry, government, and E&IT users with disabilities.

ITTATC Web site

Web accessibility is more than the sum of its parts. In other words, meeting the technical standards set forth by the Center for Applied Special Technology's BOBBY accessibility validation software (CAST, 2000) and the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative (W3C, 2001) are essential, but even they are not enough to make a Web site truly accessible. You might have a forest of accessible pages that defeat the purpose of access to all because the information available is poorly presented and difficult to find, or to understand, once the user finds it. One of the most important aspects of Web accessibility is "usability," a combination of factors that affect the ease and effectiveness of the user's experience.

Although the earlier version of the ITTATC Web site was accessible according to all published specifications, the usability of the site was not up to the standard of accessibility that ITTATC staff wanted to present. The wealth of information that ITTATC presented was buried under endless sublevels and frequently a user would have to hunt to find a document. It was necessary to make the search far more intuitive and to present users with a promise of success in their search for information, from the first sight (or sound, for those using JAWS). For this reason, ITTATC discarded the tool of using sub-navigation, which was cumbersome and often ineffective.

In its place, the Tools and Topics method of navigation was adopted. Instead of using sub-navigation and relying on the short blurbs that can be written into link titles or "ALT" (alternative text) tags, this method gives prominent display to all the major sections of the site and provides a permanent brief statement about the role of each section, and is carried as far down into each section as is necessary. The navigation bars contain featured items hosted by ITTATC, which have been evaluated as the type of information or utilities that ITTATC wants to be constantly available to its users. By combining this user-centered essential design with the technical standards of Web accessibility, ITTATC has recreated itself as a Web site that is fully accessible, from a technical standpoint and from the user-centered perspective.

Please visit the ITTATC Web site http://www.ittatc.org frequently. Information and resources are expanding and evolving almost on a daily basis. While in the process of development, your comments and feedback are greatly appreciated. For more information, please contact ITTATC via the Web site; toll free at

1-866-9-ITTATC (866-949-8282); or by surface mail:
Information Technology Technical Assistance & Training Center
Georgia Institute of Technology
Center for Assistive Technology & Environmental Access
490 Tenth Street, NW
Atlanta, GA 30318

References:

Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST). (2000). Welcome to Bobby 3.2. Retrieved August 30, 2001 from: http://www.cast.org/bobby/

Copps, M. J. (2001). Remarks of Michael J. Copps, Commissioner, Federal Communications Commission at the 14th Biennial International Conference Telecommunications for the Deaf, Inc. Sioux Falls, SD, July 10, 2001. Retrieved August 30, 2001 from: http://www.fcc.gov/Speeches/Copps/2001/spmjc102.html

1998 Amendment to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, Pub. L. 106-246, 29 U.S.C. § 794d (2000). Retrieved August 30, 2001 from: http://www.section508.gov/508law.html

World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). (2001). (Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). Retrieved August 30, 2001 from http://www.w3c.org/WAI/

Author Notes: Shelly Kaplan is Project Director of the Southeast DBTAC. She may be reached by email at se-dbtac@mindspring.com or:
Shelley Kaplan
Georgia Institute of Technology
Center for Assistive Technology & Environmental Access
490 Tenth Street, NW
Atlanta, GA 30318


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