they would have to do to accomplish that. So it was a little bit fuzzy, but at least it got their attention, and in most cases, the vendors were willing to work with us."

Texas IT access policies have since evolved to include both purchasing rules for accessible technology and design standards for government Web sites. The states ongoing efforts resulted in a 2000 Recognition Award from NASIRE for outstanding achievement in information technology. Texas purchasing

standards are available online as are the states Web design standards.

Missouri, another early adopter of IT access policies, enacted legislation requiring state agencies to purchase, develop and maintain accessible information technology nearly two years ago. Golden said Missouri has created some standards under the law -- it adopted the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) guidelines for Web site accessibility -- but has waited for the U.S. Access Board to complete its task before finalizing the states IT access criteria.

"Obviously, whatever the board uses for software [access standards], commercial developers are going to start complying with," she said. "So those are the same standards we want to use, because Missouris not going to get a developer to do something different just for Missouri."

Golden added concrete standards that define what accessibility for various IT products and systems are vital to governments effort to purchase accessible IT products. Missouri learned the value of such standards soon after the release of Microsofts Windows 95 software, when former state CIO Mike Benzen refused to purchase the popular

software package until a compatible screen-reader application became available. A marginally acceptable product appeared some five months later, according to Golden.

"State agencies were calling me all the time asking me, Why on earth they couldnt buy this thing," she said. "That just drove home to us that we werent gong to be able to stand on a no-buy decision very long without some really clear, verifiable standards. Quite honestly, without clear standards, you cant force the issue. If you dont have testable standards and you dont have protocols to test against those standards, theres really no way you are going to be able to reject a proposal or a bid."

Need for Speed

With the explosive pace of technology development in the public sector, both Golden and Johnson said IT accessibility issues must be addressed early to minimize expensive retrofitting.

"If agencies go full-bore and do something that is not accessible, its going to cost them to go back and change that," Johnson said. "Its critical, as were starting to look at putting more services on the Web, to address accessibility when we start. Then the cost is insignificant."

That proactive approach appears to be taking hold, at least in some jurisdictions. A handful of states -- including Texas, Missouri and Virginia -- have taken a lead role in tackling disabled access issues, said David Nadler, an attorney with the Washington, D.C.-based law firm of Dickstein, Shapiro, Morin & Oshinsky. Nadler, who specializes in government contract law, expects other states to quickly follow suit as federal government IT access initiatives ramp up.

"On these types of policy matters, the states tend to piggyback on the feds," he said. "I would expect that anybody who does state contracting business is going to have to deal with this over the next year or so."

Microsofts Ruby also pointed to growing awareness among the companys government clients. "Theres been heightened interest from our enterprise customers as accessibility has become more of a mainstream concern," she said. "As states have become more active in putting accessibility requirements in their contract and the

Steve Towns, Editor Steve Towns  | 

Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government TechnologyPublic CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic.