2002 Conference Proceedings

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Really GREAT Government, No Kidding!

Kathleen Anderson
Chair, CMAC Web Site Accessibility Committee
State of Connecticut
55 Elm Street, Hartford, Connecticut, 06106, USA
Voice: 860.702.3355
FAX: 860.702.3634
Email: Kathleen.Anderson@po.state.ct.us

This document describes how the State of Connecticut is committed to serving persons with disabilities by ensuring universal accessibility to its online resources. It will also provide an overview of the State's unique management process for its Internet presence in forming an independent statewide collaborative forum. This forum with the absence of a typical bureaucracy is transforming attitudes and norms for a cyber-government that is truly customer service oriented with individual accountability and a responsibility to all its customers.

State Policy Evolution

Connecticut was one of the first few States to recognize and make a commitment to the need for equal and universal access to its online services. In August 1996, the State designated a committee with the sole purpose of developing a written statewide policy to ensure that all content on State web sites would remain accessible to persons with disabilities. The committee finalized its first version of the "Universal Website Accessibility Policy" in December, 1996, after four months of research and serious consideration.

This initial policy was based predominantly on the work being done by the Trace Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison. When that work was moved to the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) at the W3C, Connecticut revised its policy to reflect the WAI Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0. The date of this policy revision coincided with the 10th anniversary of the Federal government's "Americans with Disabilities Act". Since then, Connecticut's policy and online resources continue to evolve to meet changing technology and serve as a more comprehensive resource for its users. Resources are being discovered on practically a daily basis and distributed to everyone involved. For this reason this policy has been repeatedly referenced by many States and other organizations as a model.

The People Process

The State of Connecticut has a unique process for managing the people portion of its Internet presence through an independent statewide collaborative forum. This forum with the absence of a typical bureaucracy is transforming attitudes and norms for a cyber-government that is truly customer service oriented with individual accountability and a responsibility to all its customers. The forum is known as the ConneCT Management Advisory Committee (CMAC). CMAC manages the official State of Connecticut Website, known as ConneCT, at www.state.ct.us. This committee is a collaborative effort between agencies and organizations across all branches of government. CMAC is coordinated by the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) and sponsored by the Department of Information Technology (DOIT). Rock Regan, the State's Chief Information Officer at DOIT, is the primary sponsor for CMAC and he actively encourages and oversees all its activities, including a proactive role on accessibility.

In September 1999, Connecticut, through CMAC, formed a standing subcommittee on accessibility dedicated to the ongoing need for increased awareness and training to change employee attitudes in implementing the State's policy. The CMAC Accessibility Subcommittee has an active membership with over fifteen state agencies volunteering to take the lead on behalf of this statewide effort. As with other CMAC subcommittees, the group meets face-to-face monthly and continues to conduct business through online resources, such as listserv and web tools. Individuals who serve on the subcommittee are real volunteers and not assigned by a higher authority to attend. Membership is not restricted to those who only work in State government, but to anyone with a strong interest on accessibility. This open forum provides a more global and customer driven perspective by the virtual participation (email only) of members external to Connecticut State government.

Continuous Commitment

To raise awareness in the State, accessibility demonstrations are continuously being conducted on existing websites using the latest techniques and software available. Initial resistance from state webmasters has now changed to an overwhelming request for help and assistance to review their sites. Most want to see how their sites look without images, if it can be navigated without a mouse, or what it sounds like in a screen reader like JAWS.

The State's target date for website accessibility compliance is January 2002. To track Connecticut's progress, sites are currently being examined and revised to comply with this policy. As State government is comprised of many branches and agencies operated independently, the issue of compliance has been a difficult one. Who decides if a site is in compliance with the policy and how would that decision be made? One solution has been a tutorial called the "Six Steps to Accessibility Certification" developed by the Accessibility subcommittee. The tutorial provides a basic checklist of the steps necessary to comply with the policy with actual instructions on how to perform an evaluation and to repair of web pages.

There is no cheating allowed through self-certification. Compliance is independently evaluated by an outside agency or branch. A form was developed from the tutorial to help ensure that all steps have been followed and it serves to document the completion of compliance with the policy. All materials are available on online. Awareness of the views of those persons with disabilities and peer pressure are motivating everyone to become compliant as soon as possible.

Although it was a slow start, momentum is gaining and more rigorous actions are being taken to achieved this goal. Outreach has been accomplished in and gaining more participation from not just webmasters. Several training sessions have been done for all State agency webmasters. As an aside, the training contractor hired initially for this course has incorporated the State information into their class roster and it is now available to non-government sectors.

A Website Accessibility Refresher session was held in September 2001 with all branches of government well represented. The session provided a wealth of information, diverse presentations, excellent and clear handouts and volunteers to help. One of the presentations, given by a state employee who is blind, was a demonstration of how JAWS is used with a browser. This was very effective in providing direct customer feedback. He openly shared his perspective of some State sites with the audience. Judging by the number of attendees and interest during Q&A this event was very successful.

A central State Accessibility Testing Center has been established within my agency, the Office of the State Comptroller. Testing can be done on two platform environments, PC and Macintosh. Tools currently available for testing include a wide array of software utilities such as JAWS, Outspoken for the Mac, multiple browsers and versions, the WebTV Viewer, Bobby and more. Webmasters are encouraged visit any time and test their web sites.

There is no State legislation or statutes required for compliance, just a policy and an employee spirit of customer service that goes beyond rules and regulations. The success of the project is due to the willingness of people wanting to do "the right thing".

References

ConneCT, the official web site of the State of Connecticut: http://www.state.ct.us/

ConneCT Management Advisory Committee: http://www.cmac.state.ct.us/

CMAC Web Site Accessibility Committee: http://www.cmac.state.ct.us/access/

Universal Web Site Accessibility Policy for Connecticut State Government Web Sites, Version 4.0: http://www.cmac.state.ct.us/access/policies/accesspolicy40.html

Office of Policy and Management: http://www.opm.state.ct.us/

Department of Information Technology: http://www.doit.state.ct.us/

TRACE Research and Development Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison: http://trace.wisc.edu/

W3C Web Accessibility Initiative: http://www.w3.org/WAI/

Office of the State Controller: http://www.osc.state.ct.us/


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