Able and Waiting

Able and Waiting

by / April 22, 2003
Passion, whenever it appears, is compelling. We are drawn to people who do things fully, enthusiastically and with ardor. Although it may surprise some people, the pairing of government and technology produces clusters of committed enthusiasts every bit as passionate as painters, poets and musicians.

It's been a privilege meeting many people in government and industry whose excitement about the "possible" is infectious. Potential exists to radically change or transform government through technology -- it fuels the imagination and inspires innovation. A few examples come to mind -- former Maine Gov. Angus King gave laptops to seventh- and eighth-grade students in the state; the city of Atlanta placed Cyber Centers in distressed urban neighborhoods; and Ohio's Bureau of Workers' Compensation operates more like a private-sector corporation than a bureaucracy.

The success of these projects is based on public-private partnerships. Industry often brings to market innovation, tools and speed, transforming the way government delivers services and conducts its internal operations. Over the past few years, a number of public officials stepped forward to assume positions of leadership -- providing that essential IT championship in government.

With a few exceptions, it's the private sector that has provided the passion and leadership for an emerging development that will impact most electronic and information technology in government -- the growing movement to create accessibility in government operations and services. It began with an edict that applied only to certain federal agencies, requiring that they purchase electronic and information technology that is accessible to people with disabilities. Industry and federal agencies scrambled to comply. State and local governments held their collective breath, waiting to see if the rule would rain down on them.

Meanwhile, the embers of passion were ignited. Most of the nation's pre-eminent technology companies already had staff dedicated to making their technology accessible. They were quietly doing their thing in a research and development lab the rest of the company probably didn't know existed.

Today, led by visionaries who clearly see a future in which technology will be the great enabler and equalizer, accessibility is entering the mainstream. One day, people will control their physical environment using wireless and remote technologies. The idea of plugging in, punching buttons or manipulating a mouse will be arcane. Everyone will benefit, but such technologies will remove the shackles of physical limitations for people with disabilities. What will matter in this evolved society is ability, not inability. Mind power will replace "man" power.

Stephen Hawking and Christopher Reeve represent what can be done by people whose talent and spirit matter more than their bodies. Once we unleash technology that taps into that power in everyone, the pool of contributors to the common good will rise to new levels.

At the same time, medical science is extending our lifespan -- creating a larger population of older Americans who intend to remain active and involved citizens. The maladies that accompany age will be accommodated by these new technologies, allowing people to work longer, launch new careers and retain their independence into what is now considered "old age."

The passionate people who lead the charge for accessibility see this future as reality. They know the technology is the easy part. Now starts the challenge -- to change the attitudes and business processes that limit governments' ability to span the physical divide and deliver its benefits to all constituents.
Darby Patterson Editor in Chief