In February 2003 the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania (NFBPA) joined forces with three Pennsylvania state employees who are blind to file suit against the state and its governor, Edward Rendell. The suit asserts that Pennsylvania's multimillion-dollar computer upgrade, put into use in 2003, is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because it is inaccessible to blind employees. The $40 million "Imagine PA" project developed computer packages for the state, including software for accounting, payroll, and purchasing. The plaintiffs' complaint has to do with a computer-based payroll system that cannot be accessed by state employees who are blind. If successful, the suit would prohibit Pennsylvania from widening the use of the Imagine PA system until it has been made accessible to all potential users. For more information, contact: Patricia Maurer, director, Community Relations, NFB; phone: 410-659-9314; web site: <www.nfb.org/coming/pa_sue.htm>.
Complaint about Accessible Cell Phones
In February 2003, Bonnie O'Day of Alexandria, VA, filed a formal complaint with the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) against Audiovox Communications Corporation, a manufacturer of wireless products, and Verizon Wireless, a service provider, regarding the lack of accessible features in one of their high-end cell phones. This is the first formal complaint to ask the FCC to enforce the rights provided under Section 255 of the Communications Act (as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996), which requires telecommunications equipment and services to be accessible to and usable by people with disabilities, if readily achievable. Dr. O'Day was joined in her efforts by the American Council of the Blind. O'Day and ACB have also written letters to Audiovox and Verizon Wireless asking that at least one accessible wireless telephone device be made available for consumer purchase by June 30, 2003. A staff member of the American Foundation for the Blind and a consultant who works with them have supported the complaint with expert testimony. For more information, contact: ACB; phone: 202-467-5081; web site: <www.acb.org>.
Bookshare Books Brought to BrailleNote
Pulse Data HumanWare and Benetech joined forces in February 2003 to integrate Pulse Data's BrailleNote products—personal digital assistants (PDAs) with braille and speech output—with Benetech's Bookshare.org, a subscription service that provides an extensive online library of accessible digital books to people with visual impairments. Now, BrailleNote owners can access Bookshare.org using their BrailleNote's KeyWeb Internet Browser and download books directly into the device. To celebrate, both companies are offering discounts. A $100 discount on any new BrailleNote product is available to Bookshare.org subscribers. A $25 savings on an annual Bookshare.org subscription will be offered to purchasers of a new BrailleNote or Voice Note. For more information, contact: Benetech; phone: 650-475-5440; web site: <www.bookshare.org/web/AboutMembership.html>. Pulse Data HumanWare; phone: 800-722-3393; web site: <www.humanware.com/E/E-frm.html>.
Study on Internet Access Funded
The University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences was awarded two research grants to help people with disabilities overcome access barriers to using computers and the Internet. The first grant, awarded to the school's Department of Health Information Management, totals $1.5 million from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. In addition to evaluating computer access barriers, the money will be used to evaluate new and existing accommodations, such as assistive technology and training. A second grant will fund the creation of a free computer server that will make any web site—regardless of its level of accessibility—available to those with visual impairments. This portion of the project will be funded through a $490,000 grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. For more information, contact: The University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, 4020 Forbes Tower, Pittsburgh, PA 15260; phone: 412-383-6556, fax: 412-383-6535; web site: <www.shrs.pitt.edu/index2.html>.
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