Musings: The Great Mobility Build-Out: and the digital divide

June 2012

John Moore, a freelance writer for the Federal Computer Weekly, asked if I would be available to answer a few questions relating to accessibility and Section 508 for an article he was writing on the great mobility build-out, managing the mobile technology revolution, for the Federal Computer Weekly.

Accessibility

It seems that accessibility/Section 508 was the top vote-getting topic in the National Dialogue on federal mobile strategy. Who knew so many people were actually concerned about accessibility. I was intrigued, an interview was scheduled and the article was written and published. Read Federal Computer Weekly article.

Digital Government

In the article, we learn that the Office of Management and Budget's digital strategy was published under the title "Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People."

The document, Digital Government begins "I want us to ask ourselves every day, how are we using technology to make a real difference in people's lives."
- President Barack Obama

A document of great ideas, dreams and ideals. Where do we start?

Remember the Digital Divide

"Government needs to meet people where they are," Gwynne Kostin, director of the new Digital Services Innovation Center.

In the early days of the World Wide Web we were looking for solutions to bridge the digital divide; how to get computers into schools, homes and public spaces. In the article we learn that today, with the adoption of Smartphones, 25 percent of Internet users only access the Internet using a Smartphone, a clear prediction of the future.

In the mid-1990s the cost of purchasing a computer and having Internet access was prohibitive for most. The task of providing computers and Internet access in schools seemed overwhelming. There was a clear digital divide. Today almost everyone either owns or has access to a computer, or Internet capable device, and has Internet access. Mobile devices make Internet access much more possible, and affordable, to almost everyone.

Yet, there is still a digital divide. It is not the divide of the past, but, nevertheless, a divide. We need to remember the divide moving forward so that no one is left behind.

Seize the opportunity

"We want to seize the opportunity to do mobile 'right' from the beginning," Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel.

All of us, the federal government, corporations, small businesses and individuals need to plan, strategize and learn to do it right - at the beginning - and move forward with technology as we seize opportunities as they present themselves.

Along the way, if we listen to the experiences and needs of our users, we learn how to improve process as we improve return on investment.

Security

I believe no matter how well we strategize, plan, anticipate and prepare, we are always at the mercy of unintended consequences.

No matter how diligent, we cannot allow ourselves to feel confident that all is well. Security needs to consistently be a major player in strategy, procedure and daily process.

We know it only takes something as simple as one unpatched server to allow an attacker to, in a matter of seconds, take down an entire network or to steal thousands of profiles with confidential information.

Let's remember our responsibility to our users and remain vigilant.

Accessibility - not at the end, in the beginning

From the National Dialogue on the Federal Mobility Strategy, we learned that the public said federal agencies should build accessibility into their emerging crop of mobile apps from the beginning rather than retrofitting accessibility later. I second that.

I say let us remember the spirit of Section 508 is to eliminate electronic barriers for people with disabilities. One way is through flexible website design, or what is today known as responsive design.

And we should commit to having people with disabilities involved in the process from concept through design and roll out.

Since before the ADA was signed into law, one of the rallying cries of disability activists and advocates has been - Nothing About Us Without Us. From setting policy through testing apps, people with disabilities need to be at the table.

As an accessibility expert and Section 508 consultant, one issue has been consistent - accessibility is too often an afterthought.

As an afterthought, whether electronic or brick and mortar, accessibility becomes a costly retrofit. If considered in the beginning, the outcome is affordable accessibility, an outcome that is usable to the general public as well as for people with disabilities.

Let's remember to consider accessibility in the beginning.

Life changing event

In 1993 I sat in a room at the then new Pennsylvania Convention Center and listened to someone talk about this new thing called the "World Wide Web". At that moment I was certain that life as we knew it was changing forever in ways that would have been considered science fiction a few years before - and I wanted to be a part of that change.

Is the great mobility build-out, the next phase - the beginning of the time when computers are in our hands, not on our desks - the next permanent change to life as we know it? Absolutely. It's already happening.

Let's be ready for it with open minds, comprehensive strategy and big dreams. As a nation, we have an opportunity to make a real difference in people's lives - and to lead. I say, let's do it.

-Nancy Massey

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Nancy Massey
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