Web Accessibility – A Look back and into the Future

Web Accessibility – A Look back and into the Future: Interview with Debi Orton, IT Manager New York State Government

In this three minute interview with Debi Orton, Manager of IT at New York State Governor’s Office of Employee Relations, Debi shares her thoughts regarding why Web accessibility is important to her on a personal level and to the state of New York. Debi also provides us with a look back into the past and into the future for the prospects of delivering Web Accessibility on federal level and what policy decision makers need to know and consider when promoting Web accessibility policies.

Additionally, Debi also talks about the current working environment for those that develop websites in New York as well as the tools, skills and knowledge Web professionals need to make Web accessibility a reality.



Interviewer: I am on the phone with Debi Orton, Manager of IT at New York State Government and a long time accessibility advocate. Debi good morning and thanks for agreeing to the call.

Debi Orton: Good Morning.

Interviewer: Debi you’ve been an advocate for accessibility for a number of years and we’ve been working together on and off for at least ten of them that I know.

Debi Orton: Yes.

Interviewer: How’s accessibility going in the State of New York?

Debi Orton: It’s interesting, in the State we have cycles as most other businesses do and ours is usually a three year cycle, we get a series of developers come in, we train them, three years later it’s time to train a whole new batch and we are back at the beginning of that cycle at this point.

Interviewer: Fair enough, I could certainly relate to that. Why is accessibility or web accessibility important to you and why is it important to the State of New York?

Debi Orton: Well, one a personal level, accessibility is important to me because my mother became blind and we had several instances where people just told her that she didn’t have the right to have access to information because she was blind and that obviously didn’t sit well with me, so I got involved in New York States’ Accessibility Initiatives and I’ve been with it ever since.

Interviewer: I know you’ve been working very hard on this,

Debi Orton: Yeah, yeah, I have and accessibility in general is important for a number of reasons, I mean especially in the public sector, people who are blind and who are deaf and who have mobility impairments pay taxes just like everybody else and they pay for the information the state entities, you know, state agencies put on their websites, so they have as much right to have access to that information as everyone else, accessibility simply is a way to get them there.

Interviewer: Yeah, well said. How much have we progressed in the last decade in making these websites accessible?

Debi Orton: I think we’ve progressed quite a bit, I mean, we used to go into a room and say, ‘accessibility’ and the people wouldn’t know what we are talking about, but now if you say accessibility at least you get, you know, people who roll their eyes like not again. But at least they recognize the term.

Interviewer: What would you like policy decision makers to know about moving towards web accessibility?

Debi Orton: Moving towards web accessibility oh lets see, I think that first of all we need to have [indiscernible] [00:02:19] we need to be serious about our commitment to making things accessible, I mean not just websites but offices, applications, all sorts of other things. I’d also like them to know that nobody gets anywhere without a little bit of support and they have to look at things like providing testing tools for web developers so that they can make sure that their content is accessible and they need to understand that they need to spend some money on training. Typically what happens is, if someone goes to work for an agency, they are trained in an authoring tool which is fine, it teaches you how to use the authoring tool, but you end up with web developers who know how to use the tool and don’t know anything about HTML or C S S or accessibility.

Interviewer: What’s going on, on a federal level, with ADA and web accessibility?

Debi Orton: Well the ADA is, the Department of Justice on the 20th Anniversary of the ADA has determined that they want to go on record stating that the web is a place of public accommodation and therefore subject to the ADA. The public sector has always been subject to the ADA but now they are declaring the web a place of public accommodation, so we have that coming forward, that’s probably going to come to fruition in March of 2011. There is an open comment period that’s on right now and also there is a change in Section 508, which is the US Accessibility Guideline and that change is, I think the most significant part of that change is that instead of holding their own standards as we have up until now, Section 508 is now seeking to harmonize with the WCAG, which is the W3Cs web accessibility guideline. So, there is a certain convergent on the WCAG and the W3C as the seat of guidelines now and even in the ADA that’s one of the questions they are asking people to comment on is whether the W3Cs guidelines are the ones we should be using.

Interviewer: Okay.

Debi Orton: So I think it’s going to be an interesting year in 2011 for web accessibility and it is certainly going to elevate the profile.

Interviewer: Excellent. Well, Debi we certainly appreciate the update, your perspective on the topic and for your time today, keep up the great fight on web accessibility.

Debi Orton: Thanks.

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