President Clinton today unveiled new initiatives and funding
aimed at bridging the "digital divide" for the disabled.
At a presentation in Flint, Mich., the White House pledged tens of millions
of dollars in federal and private funds to pay for research into
alternative devices to replace standard computer monitors and keyboards
used for surfing the Web, as well as loans to make such devices more
"I think this (event) brings attention to the issue (of accessibility) and
helps remind people that designing access to mainstream technology is both
practical and important," said Judy Brewer, director of the World Wide Web
Consortium's (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative, which presented new
accessibility technology at the event. "It also makes good business sense."
The W3C is an international standards body that released guidelines last year to make the
Web more accessible to people with disabilities.
During the past couple of years, Clinton has focused his administration's
efforts to close the gap between technology haves and have nots, known
as the digital divide. Today's Michigan visit was part
of that initiative.
Although the president has been credited by accessibility advocates for
focusing on the issue, many say the White House has failed in providing
means for people with disabilities to afford new software and computers.
"The technology exists?What doesn?t exist is the wherewithal to acquire the
technology and learn how to use it," said Curtis Chong, director of
technology at the National Federation of the Blind, which has aggressively
pushed companies to support
accessibility technology, such as electronic braille readers.
Clinton today saw some examples of new computer technology that could help
people with disabilities find employment, including the Eye-Gaze system,
which allows people who are unable to move or speak to operate a computer
and send email merely by looking at different parts of a computer screen.
Chong said the technology for the blind could cost thousands of dollars.
"We want goals?not promises made in the heat of a political election," he
said. "We want goals translated into reality."
The president is earmarking $9 million in grants to support 1,200 AmeriCorp
volunteer projects that help people with disabilities. Clinton also
announced $16 million in grants from the Department of Education's National
Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research to be used in various
programs to promote the accessible information technology through research
and loan programs.
E-learning company SmartForce donated $20 million in "e-scholarships" to
give about 5,000 people with disabilities access to its online training
In addition, the administration received commitments from 45 chief
executives of high-tech companies--including America Online,
Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems--to adopt "best practices"
on the accessibility of information and communications products.
The president is also creating a task force to examine Medicare-Medicaid
coverage of assistive technology, said Tom Kalil, special assistant to the
president for economic policy.
"The task force will take a look at what current programs within the
Medicare-Medicaid system currently cover accessibility and what can be
done to do more," he said.
The number of people in the United States with disabilities is 54 million,
according to the U.S. Census Bureau.