Posted by Laura Ruby 
Director, Accessibility Policy and StandardsGov20

In recent months there has been a lot of debate in Washington, D.C. about Government 2.0, or the use of Web 2.0 technologies and social networking tools such  as RSS feeds, blogs and wikis to give citizens greater access to information and to make government more transparent. Some people wonder if valuable social policies, such as ensuring accessibility for people with disabilities, can be maintained at the same time that the government implements Web 2.0 technologies.

At Microsoft we believe the true spirit of Government 2.0 (Gov 2.0) can only be achieved if social policy is honored, and accessibility is assured, as new technology is adopted.

Nineteen years ago this weekend, Congress signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) giving 43 million Americans with disabilities the promise of equal access to all the benefits and advantages of society we take for granted. The ADA requires the elimination of physical barriers, such as sidewalks that don’t have curb cuts, and provision of equal access to jobs, public services and private businesses. Like the ADA, Gov 2.0 should remove barriers to information for all, regardless of age or ability.

Microsoft is working in a variety of ways to ensure that public agencies have the resources they need to make the benefits of Gov2.0 accessible to all. 

A few examples:         

Making our own products as accessible as possible. Accessibility is a core business practice at Microsoft and has been an integral part of our product planning for the past 20 years. Much like our efforts to ensure privacy and security, our commitment to accessibility is an essential part of our approach to building products that are safer and easier to use. Accessible software makes it easier for everyone to see, hear and use computers and other technologies. By making our products and services accessible, people of all abilities are empowered and enabled to realize their full potential.

Collaborating to provide guidance. Microsoft participates in a broad range of engineering collaborations and standards development activities that define accessible technologies and solve challenges associated with developing them. One of those organizations is the Worldwide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). We recently participated in WAI’s effort to update their Web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG 2.0) which describe how to build accessible Web content in light of Web 2.0 technologies. Governments and companies all over the world can look to these guidelines and make their Web sites accessible and easier to use by everyone.

Helping develop expertise within government. Since 1988, federal agencies have been tasked with ensuring that their electronic and information technology is accessible to employees and members of the public with disabilities –including government Web sites. The Federal Section 508 accessibility standardshave gone a long way toward helping agencies procure accessible technology, develop accessible applications and make their Web sites accessible. Recently, the federal government started the process of refreshing these standards to ensure they provide the most up-to-date guidance for making today and tomorrow’s leading edge technologies accessible. Microsoft is proud to be one of the companies nominated to the advisory committee to help recommend changes.

Supporting Developers. Along with making our products accessible, we provide tools that make it easier for developers to build accessible software applications and write accessible code. Microsoft’s MSDN Accessibility Developer Center provides content and resources on developing accessible products and technologies. In fact we just published a new book, Engineering Software for Accessibility. Microsoft Web Expression 2.0 helps developers build an accessible site and validate their work against Section 508 and WCAG. Microsoft Silverlight enables Web developers to create rich Internet applications that are both cool in terms of design and accessible. Windows Live Writer helps bloggers easily compose accessible blog posts.

As we contemplate the 19th anniversary of the enactment of the ADA, Microsoft continues to work, independently and with our partners, to make technology more accessible and easier to use for everyone. We want to help local, state and national governments install "curb-cuts" to ensure access to the information highway for everyone.

To learn more about Microsoft’s work on accessible technology, visit us athttp://www.microsoft.com/enable.