Telecommunications and Electronic and Information
Technology Advisory Committee –
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Microsoft wishes to thank the Access Board for the opportunity to participate as a member of the Access Board’s Telecommunications and Electronic and Information Technology Advisory Committee (TEITAC) and welcomes the opportunity to offer observations on the work of the TEITAC per its Final Report.
Digital Inclusion is an issue that has gained worldwide visibility. Like the Access Board, governments around the world have recognized the need to ensure that all their citizens have access to technology.
Microsoft is committed to helping governments meet these needs by fostering a digital society that is inclusive of people with disabilities, ageing technology users and anyone who wants to adjust their technology experience to meet their individual needs. To achieve an inclusive information society we have worked to build accessibility features into our products as well as provide support for interoperability with third party assistive technologies. Microsoft is pleased to have had the opportunity to participate in the TEITAC and provide the Access Board with guidance as they craft the next generation of accessibility standards for Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and accessibility guidelines for Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act.
Today, our industry is delivering excellent solutions for people with a broad range of impairments and disabilities. We now have the opportunity to build on that success and provide even better solutions for more consumers in the future. While new standards and guidelines can drive new products into the market, an equal challenge is leveraging solutions already in the market through interoperability. In most cases, these Assistive Technology (AT) and Information Technology (IT) interoperability challenges can be overcome most effectively through industry engineering collaborations.
Interoperability is the ability of different IT networks, applications, or components to exchange and use information, i.e. to “talk” to each other. Interoperability is critical to creating an accessible ecosystem for consumers with a broad range of disabilities.
Microsoft has long been committed to improving the AT/IT interoperability ecosystem by providing access to our technology and making it easier for others to develop AT products that work with the Windows operating system as well as our other products. This is done by fostering a direct channel for communication — including sharing of code, documentation, and development knowledge — between Assistive Technology Vendors and Microsoft developers, while new products are under development. We encourage the Access Board to continue to support industry collaboration to improve the AT/IT eco-system.
Microsoft applauds the efforts of the TEITAC to harmonize its recommendations with international standards for accessibility that support interoperability. In particular, we recognize the broad benefits of basing provisions 3-U and 3-V of Subpart C on the guidelines in ISO/FDIS 9241-171:2007. We do not support the TEITAC’s proposed additional bullet 1.g in 3U which is not currently in 9241-171 and not sufficiently scoped as written in the draft provision. By keeping these provisions globally consistent, the Access Board will reduce the cost of producing accessible products that satisfy both standards, thereby increasing the ability of more vendors to enable their products. As a result, people with disabilities will have a broader range of choice in products providing access to E&IT systems.
In addition, the approach taken by TEITAC and the international community allow for greater interoperability and continuing innovation to improve the accessibility of E&IT systems. The recommendation in 3-U that application developers use the services provided by the platform to interact with assistive technologies will allow AT products to enable access to all applications for that platform that follow the recommendation. By specifying in 3-V what services platform software vendors are expected to provide, rather than how those services are to be provided, these standards allow platform vendors to work with industry to develop improved ways for applications to interact with assistive technology. Microsoft encourages the Access Board to support increased choice, interoperability, and innovation in accessibility of E&IT products by adopting these provisions.
Microsoft supports the Access Board’s inclusion of a diverse group of national and international stakeholders with experience in a broad array of standards bodies and industry consortia on the TEITAC to promote harmonization of global accessibility standards. As the narrative in the TEITAC Report states, “Harmonization should result in more accessible products, delivered through a more economically efficient market.” Like most IT companies, Microsoft builds products and services for a global market place and strives to meet the needs of people with disabilities in all of its markets. Microsoft requests that the Access Board continue the work of the TEITAC in this important area.
Microsoft praises the TEITAC for their work to harmonize with W3C WCAG 2.0. The majority of the TEITAC consensus provisions are well aligned with WCAG 2.0 technical provisions and will eliminate conflict for developers. We encourage the Access Board to avoid fragmentation by staying in contact with W3C WAI as they complete their work on WCAG 2.0 and collect implementation evidence.
We caution the Board that some of the WCAG 2.0 provisions were assigned to level A as they are universally applicable to all websites and do not impose constraints on the design where there are user agent features or assistive technologies that can provide the needed user function. The WCAG 2.0 level AA provisions impose constraints on design to a level which may not be universally appropriate. However, the TEITAC provisions were not assigned priorities as the provisions are in WCAG 2.0. Unlike WCAG 2.0, Section 508 extends beyond web sites to include software design. If the Access Board adopts AA provisions from WCAG 2.0, we recommend that the Board adopt the WCAG priorities and/or reference the language that refers to “levels” from WCAG 2.0.
The primary solution cited for the needs of users with partial hearing here is volume control, and more specifically FCC regulation §68.317. While we recognize that additional volume can assist users in the short term to hear conversation, there are EU regulations which prohibit such exposure in the workplace as it may have additional negative effects on any remaining hearing. This creates a conflict between the US and EU requirements. Therefore we would urge the Access Board to take into consideration this conflict and look for a potential resolution.
We fully support the TEITAC recommendation in addressing the need to provide alternative text for users that cannot hear the audio track. However we feel that this text may rely too heavily on the state of the art in captioning in US television systems. This is an area of rapid change as programming moves to the internet, and is somewhat different to the captioning provisions developed elsewhere in the world for television systems. We would consider it inadvisable for the final ruling to be dependent on specific technical standards, and feel the ruling should instead focus on the user need and functional outcome that the product or service needs to achieve.
We welcome the fact that TEITAC report recommendations address the requirement to transmit text conversations whenever voice conversations are possible. However, we caution that this is an area currently undergoing rapid technological advancement, and the provision may need further study by industry. In light of the fact that text conversation systems used worldwide are somewhat different in nature to those used in the US, we consider that the referencing of specific technical standards for text conversation and video conversation systems is inadvisable in the final ruling. Any such ruling should focus on the user needs and functional outcomes that the product or service needs to achieve.
We remind the Access Board that flexibility and technology neutrality are particularly appropriate in the rapidly converging IT world where customers and governments increasingly rely on a broad range and combination of innovative technologies to develop accessibility solutions. Flexible, technology neutral standards promote innovation, eliminate barriers to trade and market access, enhance competition, and prevent bias in government procurement.
A good example of how the Access Board could incorporate flexibility into its standards is reflected in the TEITAC’s dialogue around creating a new exception in Subpart A for “Narrow, Delineated Use”. Although the TEITAC was not able to come to consensus on how the exception should be written, we would encourage the Access board to consider an exception like this if effective wording can be found which balances the issues outlined in the report.
Microsoft also cautions the Access Board to not attempt to “engineer” accessibility by prescribing specific means to the exclusion of others. Such an approach would curtail the flexibility of IT vendors and purchasers, including government agencies, to use alternative solutions that could produce greater levels of both interoperability and accessibility. Overly prescriptive standards often have other unintended detrimental effects.
Section 2.7 of the Report addresses applying the technical provisions to Sections 508 and 255. Microsoft urges the Access Board to take caution when they apply the technical provisions in the TEITAC Report to Section 255 as it appears some may be in conflict with the Section 255 Readily Achievable standard.
In closing, we wish to recognize and thank our fellow TEITAC members from government, industry, academia and the disability community for their collegiality, informed dialogue and hard work. We thank the subcommittee chairs for their leadership. We thank the TEITAC Chairs for shepherding us through the lengthy process and the Editorial Working Group for their diligence in recording our work. We thank the Access Board Staff for their leadership and administrative support throughout the process. Microsoft is available to the Access Board to provide input and consultation should they desire further information or support on issues.
We conclude by reaffirming Microsoft’s commitment as an industry leader to partnering with government, the disability community, academics and our industry colleagues to achieve our shared vision of digital inclusion.
As always, in any consensus process involving a diverse range of voices, portions of provisions may require additional clarification or be of concern to some members. We respectfully offer these additional clarifications and concerns to the Board in the attached Appendix.
Impact Statement: Rich Internet Applications may have to implement the ARIA standards. Web sites can also provide a programmatic interface by following coding guidelines and using the existing semantics in HTML which will be exposed by the browsers accessibility APIs.