2001 Conference Proceedings

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Enterprise-Wide Architecture for Accessibility in the Canadian Government

Rodney Carpenter
rodney.carpenter@tbs-sct.gc.ca 
Treasury Board of Canada
Government of Canada
Ottawa, Canada
K1A 0R5

Bill Shackleton
bill@eramp.com 
E-Ramp, Inc.
Carleton Place, Ontario
K7C 4L3

This presentation describes the work of the Accessibility Domain Architecture Team (ADAT) of the Canadian Government. The background and context from the perspective of the government's renewal of its IM/IT infrastructure is given first. Then, the evolution of efforts to ensure the inclusiveness of persons with disabilities is described. The result of the convergence of these two tracks - the Accessibility Domain Architecture - is then presented.

Background: Canadian Government IM/IT

"The Government will become a model user of information technology and the Internet. By 2004, our goal is to be known around the world as the government most connected to its citizens, with Canadians able to access all government information and services on-line at the time and place of their choosing."

Government On-Line

Canada is the world's second largest country in physical size, yet our population is about the size of California. We are a land of two official languages and multiculturalism. We're more of a 'mosaic' than a melting pot. Given the size of our geography and the tiny, yet diverse nature of our population, it was natural that Canada would be at the forefront of communications technology. Although citizens could always access government information and services in a diversity of ways (mail, phone, personal visit), the opportunity to bring "Government On-Line" through electronic service delivery (ESD) provides yet another channel to connect Canadians with their government at the time and place of their choosing. As a result, electronic information and services will be readily available in all parts of the country and to all income groups, in both official languages, and will respect the special needs of persons with disabilities.

Strategic IM/IT Infrastructure Initiative

A government-wide IM/IT infrastructure that provides a secure and trusted environment to connect with citizens and the private sector builds on and leverages the government's considerable investments in existing infrastructure. However, those investments have traditionally resulted in systems that were developed to optimize the strategies of single departments or programs. In October of 1998, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) and Public Works / Government Services of Canada (PWGSC) developed the SII initiative to renew the government's IM/IT infrastructure. SII sets out the underpinning of secure, citizen-centred electronic service delivery in terms of both technology components and information management components (eg. policies, standards). SII objectives are:

  1. Develop a policy that provides a sustainable approach to managing the federal government's IM/IT infrastructure.

  2. Adopt a framework that guides the government's investments in IM/IT infrastructure to support one-stop access with a common face to service delivery.

  3. Create interoperability among government programs, both for information and transactions, to support citizen-centred service delivery.
Federated Architecture

The Federated Architecture Program (FAP) enables the Government of Canada to determine what must comprise an IM/IT infrastructure - the Information Management policies, standards, practices, components and systems needed to support government-wide interests and business requirements. Within the context of the Government of Canada, "architecture" has been defined as:

…a logical set of principles that guides detailed design, selection, construction, implementation, deployment, support and management of systems and technical infrastructure. A set of product standards by itself does not constitute architecture. What is most important is architecture's guidance on how the organisation's technologies, products, standards, and configurations are to be used to achieve program goals by adapting constantly to changes in the organisation's business strategy and business processes.

The Federated Architecture does three essential things:

  1. It guides the development of IM/IT infrastructure and the migration of information and services to the Internet in a coherent, progressive, efficient and secure way;

  2. It makes the best possible use of the "legacy" information and technology systems already in place;

  3. It identifies and prioritises the new systems, components, standards and policies that are needed.
Within the federated architecture framework, some components of the infrastructure must be commonly held and mandatory across the government to ensure that it achieves its service delivery goals. In other cases, groups of departments may cluster around common solutions. FAP has been specifically tasked with identifying the common and shared capabilities needed from the IM/IT infrastructure to meet the government's current and future business requirements. The Federated Architecture Model, illustrated below, takes a government-wide horizontal approach, recognising the central importance of cross-government solutions to support integrated service delivery, especially client-centred electronic service delivery. Those 'pieces' of the infrastructure that are common across all federal departments are of particular interest.

[D]

Background: Persons with Disabilities

The Past

For persons with disabilities, technology can be a double-edged sword. In some ways, it can empower an individual to do things that without technology would be difficult or impossible. Unfortunately, when technology is designed, purchased and implemented without considering the needs of individuals with disabilities it can often raise barriers to information and services previously available to them. Most recent government reports have identified and highlighted many of the problems faced by persons with disabilities such as the fragmentation of services for persons with disabilities; technical professionals untrained in the subject of accessibility; and inflexible IM/IT infrastructures that are incompatible with the devices that many people use to access information and services.

Low Road

Traditionally, and too often, accessibility is an afterthought to the design and implementation of IM/IT environments retrofitted to an already existing system often resulting in a patchwork of ad hoc 'fixes'. In many cases this results in frustration for the individual who must wait for what too often is a low quality 'solution'. Recent efforts to ensure accessibility by 'eliminating barriers' to access have helped to ensure that systems are designed, purchased and implemented in such a way as to reduce the number of barriers inadvertently created. Additionally, the big stick of regulations, laws, and policies have increased the awareness of accessibility issues in the technical community. Unfortunately, for too many technical professionals, accessibility means designing down to the lowest common denominator, duplication of effort, or text only documents.

Convergence: Accessibility Domain Architecture

High Road

Although removing barriers is a necessary step in ensuring accessibility, a strategy based on embracing the challenge of empowering individuals regardless of the severity or complexity of their disabilities can result in a high quality infrastructure that is more adaptable, responsive, and flexible for everyone. For example,

A human-centered IM/IT environment which effectively responded to people based on their unique preferences and requirements could be leveraged to enhance the productivity of even non-disabled executives as illustrated in the following scenario:

A manager, sitting in her office, loads her project management software onto her desktop computer to work on a complex corporate initiative. Being reminded that she needs to catch a flight to the region, she continues working on her project using her Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) while riding down the elevator to the car. Driving to the airport, she 'talks' to her dashboard, continuing her interaction with the software, which feeds back information to her car, which then speaks to her. Arriving at the airport, she notes that her flight has been delayed, so she approaches a public kiosk to continue her work. Later, on hearing boarding instructions over the PA system, she wirelessly downloads the current (and freshly updated) project status to her laptop on which she'll conclude her activity while on the aeroplane. Although many people have been empowered by targeting specific technologies such as web pages and PCs, the enormous potential to leverage the entire IM/IT infrastructure has until now remained untapped. This is the responsibility of the Accessibility Domain Architecture Team.

Opportunity

The SII provides a unique opportunity to 'smooth in' and integrate 'e-ramps' that enable people - regardless of dis/ability - to access information and services from their government while the 'cement is wet'.

Objective

The objective of ADAT is to:

Explore opportunities provided by the SII for empowering individuals with disabilities. Develop government-wide accessibility principles and technical standards, which will become incorporated into the Federated Architecture Facilitate the development of horizontal government wide and departmental shared components designed to level the playing field. Assist in the development of architectures from other technical domains (eg. security, network, e-forms) in order to leverage previously untapped opportunities for enhancing accessibility for all.

Approach

Accessibility must be done comprehensively. Having an accessible computer system access an inaccessible web site or having a technology environment that is incompatible with a person's assistive technology creates barriers to information and services for that person. An architecture for accessibility must take into consideration three elements in order to be effective: Personal Technologies, Technology Environment, and the Information / Services being delivered through those technologies.

ADAT will work closely with the members of the Access Working Group in order to leverage "corporate memory". Although not a technically based group, they nevertheless possess experience and expertise in the area of access to information and services by persons with disabilities. The process through which this Enterprise-Wide Architecture for Accessibility is to be created follows:

Common Requirements Vision

The common Requirements Vision (CRV) is the first task in developing a federated architecture. The Access Working Group will play an important role in helping ADAT to identify a vision of perfect accessibility.

Conceptual Architecture

The Conceptual Architecture serves as a roadmap for the design and deployment of the common and shared components of the Federated Architecture. It also provides a mechanism to allow individual departments to respond to unique business needs using common components, thus ensuring that information and services will be shared and managed on a federated basis.

Domain Architecture Definition: Target Architecture

The resulting target architecture - Enterprise-Wide Architecture for Accessibility - will be crafted with both global and domain specific accessibility principles, standards, and components.

Snapshot of Existing Baseline Architecture

Various Federal reports and Task Forces, as well as existing policies, services and infrastructure will help to provide a snapshot of the existing baseline - especially as it applies to accessibility.

Gap Analysis

The difference between the target architecture and the baseline architecture will be analysed in order to facilitate migration and implementation planning.

Migration & Implementation Planning

The result of the Gap Analysis will help to produce a migration plan of prioritised steps leading to the target architecture.

Graphic Description: Federated Architecture Model

The graphic depicts a model of the IM/IT architecture of the government of Canada. Four blue rectangular boxes, like buildings, represent each of the various departments of the government. Each are labelled "Department Unique Components". They are joined at the bottom by a horizontal red rectangle labelled "Government-Wide Components". Sitting on that base, but reaching across only three of the four departments is another horizontal red rectangle labelled "Department Shared Components". When viewed from the perspective of a particular department its IM/IT environment consists of components that are common across the entire government, components that are shared by some departments which have clustered around common solutions, and components that are unique to that department. Along the bottom of the graphic are arrows labelled "Business Process" that emphasize the business driven nature of the architecture.

Footnotes

1. Information Management / Information Technology.

2. Speech from the Throne (October 12th, 1999).

3. TBS and PWGSC are two departments of the Government of Canada which together is roughly analogous to the U.S. Government Services Administration (GSA).

4. Access for All through Technology, Introduction to Technology Accommodation and Accessibility within the Federal Public Service, In Unison: A Canadian Approach to Disability Issues – A Vision Paper, to name a few.

5. Adapted from Use of GUI Interfaces on the Converging Telecommunication Appliances: The Need for New Access Strategies (http://trace.wisc.edu/docs/ihci97_common_table/common.html), General Concepts, Universal Design Principles and Guidelines (http://trace.wisc.edu/world/gen_ud.html), and conversations with Gregg Vanderheidden (Trace Research and Development Center).

6. A TTY, formerly know as TDD (Telephone Device for the Deaf), is a device used by many people with hearing impairments as an alternative to a standard telephone. Similar to text messaging, communication between two people is enabled by each person typing on a keyboard and reading the other person’s conversation on a display.

7. The Access Working Group of the Treasury Board Internet Advisory Committee is composed of public servants from various government departments who are furthering accessibility within the Federal Government.


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