Stop Lotus at the U.S. Dept. of Education

From: Janina Sajka (
Date: Wed Feb 26 1997 - 23:16:19 PST

Some three weeks ago several national organizations serving blind people
sent a letter of concern to Ms. Judy Heumann, Assistant Secretary of
Education regarding the Department's recent adoption of software which is
inaccessible to its blind employees. As of this writing, there has been no
response to this letter. The text of this letter accompanies this message

We believe the Department of Education may soon adopt additional software which
will also be inaccessible to its blind employees. We further believe that
software acquisitions at the U.S. Department of Education are being made
without regard to, or consideration of access issues, despite provisions in
Federal law to the contrary. If you share our concern in this matter, you
may wish to express your concern to the Secretary of Education, Mr. Richard
Riley, and to the Assistant Secretary, Ms. Judy Heumann. Their e-mail
addresses are:

Please feel free to distribute this message wherever appropriate.

   Janina Sajka, Director
   Information Systems Department
   American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)

Text of Letter

February 3, 1997

Judith E. Heumann
Assistant Secretary for Special Education
 and Rehabilitative Services
Department of Education, MES Bldg.
330 C Street, S.W., Room 3006
Washington, DC 20202

Dear Judy:

As representatives of major national organizations in the
blindness community, we are writing to ask your assistance to
immediately remedy a serious access problem at the Department of
Education which, if unresolved, will deny equal access and
opportunities for employees who are blind or visually impaired,
and will establish a dangerous precedent to other agencies and
the private sector.

We have been informed that the Department has recently adopted
Lotus Notes software for use by its employees. As you know, most
of the functions and features of Lotus Notes are inaccessible to
people who are blind or visually impaired because much of the
Notes program cannot be used with the major screen access
programs currently on the market today. Accordingly, most of
your blind or visually impaired employees, who must use Notes for
mail or other applications, will not be able to perform their
jobs satisfactorily when confronted by this serious access
barrier. It is distressing that the Administration's primary
disability policy component, contrary to your own Sec. 504 access
guidelines and Sec. 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, allowed this
acquisition without insisting upon accessible design in the first
place. This sends a very damaging message to other government
agencies and to the private sector who will rightly conclude that
universal design guidelines are no more important than the paper
on which they are written.

Judy, we hope that you will agree that this situation is very
much like buying a new building with steps to the front door with
a promise that a ramp will be installed later. The fact that part
of the functionality of the Lotus package is accessible to some
blind or visually impaired users who use specific screen access
software is not an acceptable solution to this problem.

We ask you to take bold and immediate steps to remedy this
unfortunate situation. Just as you turned off a new voice mail
system until it was made accessible to your deaf employees, we
ask that you direct your employees not to use the Lotus Notes
software package until appropriate access is achieved (following
adequate testing and evaluation by your blind or visually
impaired staff).

To this end, we would be pleased to attend an urgent meeting
between yourself, experienced access application developers,
appropriate department staff and Lotus to discuss accessible
alternatives. However, if Lotus Notes cannot be made fully and
universally accessible to users of major screen access software
within a reasonable amount of time, we request that the
Department refrain from using this software, and that replacement
software, having suitable access compatibility such as
Microsoft's Active Accessibility Standard, be acquired.

Finally, we would respectfully request a personal meeting with
you to discuss the procedures by which the Department was able to
go forward with the Lotus Notes acquisition without addressing
access issues early in the procurement process, as required by
your Section 504 access guidelines and Section 508 of the
Rehabilitation Act. We know that you believe that OSERS should be
a model of accessibility, and we certainly applaud you for this
commitment. We must, however, make certain that appropriate
safeguards are instituted to ensure that the Department's future
acquisitions comply with this goal.

Thank you for your attention to this most important matter. We
look forward to hearing from you.


American Council of the Blind
Paul Edwards, President
1155 15th Street, N.W., Suite 720
Washington, DC 20036

Attn: Julie Carroll
Director of Government Affairs

Assoc. for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind
  and Visually Impaired
Kathleen Megivern, Executive Director
4600 Duke Street, Suite 430
Alexandria, VA 22304

American Foundation for the Blind
Scott Marshall, Vice President
Governmental Relations
1615 M Street, N.W., Suite 250
Washington, DC 20036

Blinded Veterans Association
Arthur Matthews, Jr.
Director of Government Affairs
477 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001

National Industries for the Blind
Judith Moore, President
1901 North Beauregard Street, Suite 200
Alexandria, VA 22311-1727

Attn: Patricia Beattie
Director Public Policy

cc: Honorable Richard W. Riley, Secretary of Education

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