AT Works: Engaging Citizens in the Development of Accessible Workplace Technology Podcast September 4, 2012
Tom Temin, Co-Host, "Federal Drive"
Greg Elin, Chief Data Officer, Federal Communications Commission;
Sheila Campbell, Director, Center for Excellence in Digital Government at GSA;
Kathleen Martinez, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy
U.S. Department of Labor, Washington, D.C.
TOM TEMIN: Well, good afternoon, and welcome to this live podcast.
Good afternoon. Welcome to this live podcast. Our theme today is "Inspiring Innovation Engaging Citizens in the Development of Accessible Workplace Technology." My name is Tom Temin; I have the honor of moderating today's discussion. We're in a studio within the U.S. Labor Department headquarters building in Washington, D.C. Our convener for today's audio podcast is the Labor Department's Office of Disability Employment Policy. Now, during this podcast, feel free to join the interactive Twitter feed. Just use the hashtag #ATworks. That's ATworks.
Now today, we're going to explore data, open government and how innovation can benefit people with disabilities. The federal government is among the biggest creators and publishers of data in the world maybe it's the biggest. Increasingly, this information is available to the public and private sector developers, and they're finding new and creative to build applications and services around that data.
Our guests today are Greg Elin, chief data officer of the Federal Communications Commission. Under Greg's leadership in data, the FCC with its Open Developer Days one's coming up; I think we're going to hear more about that has become a focal point of both application development and accessibility innovation. Around the FCC, Greg is known as "Mr. Data." So Mr. Data, great to have you.
GREG ELIN: Thank you for having me.
MR. TEMIN: Sheila Campbell is the director of the Center for Excellence in Digital Government at the General Services Administration. She's got a wide portfolio at GSA. I'll just mention two items: HowTo.gov that's a hub for information and new media best practices and Challenge.gov that's the gathering point for citizen ideas about how to improve government. Sheila, great to have you.
SHEILA CAMPBELL: Thank you. It's great to be here.
MR. TEMIN: And Kathy Martinez is assistant secretary for labor for disability employment policy. And before joining the Labor Department, she was executive director of the World Institute on Disability. And she's a board member of the U.S Institute of Peace. Kathy, great to have you back.
KATHLEEN MARTINEZ: Great to be here.
MR. TEMIN: And I'm Tom Temin, your moderator. I'm a technology writer and host of the "Federal Drive," weekday mornings on Federal News Radio, 1500 AM in Washington, and federalnewsradio.com. And by the way, you can catch us contact us after the event on the ODEP website, if you'd like to reach out directly following the event.
As a reminder, the archived version of this podcast will be available for listening again tomorrow at dol.gov/odep. In the meantime, again, please join the discussion live by using the Twitter hashtag #ATworks.
All right, let's get down to business. First order of business is to have our guests introduce themselves tell us a little bit about what you're doing, what you're up to, more than what I said. Sheila Campbell, from GSA, let's start with you.
MS. CAMPBELL: Great. Thank you, Tom. It's really delightful to be here with everybody today.
So my team at GSA provides a number of resources to help agencies improve their digital services and engage with the public online. And we do that through best practices, training and shared tool. And this is really a part of GSA's overall mission, in term to save agencies money, to reduce duplication, so we really take advantage of opportunities to have agencies collaborate and find shared solutions. And in this space, there's a ton of activity going on. We provide best practices and training to help agencies manage their websites, to help them manage social media. And as you mentioned, in the innovation space we've managed Challenge.gov, which is a hub for agencies to conduct challenge and prize competitions. So I'll go into a little bit of detail on each of those, just to give a quick overview.
In the innovation space, in terms of Challenge.gov and certainly invite anyone listening in today to visit the website; we get we've gotten over 2 million visitors since the site was launched two years ago and we're going to be celebrating our two-year anniversary, in fact, this Friday. And it's a place where agencies can post a problem any problem that they're having, any sort of, you know, a business thing that they're trying to solve. And maybe they have tried to solve it through a traditional procurement process and haven't been able to find the right solution. And so they put it out there to the general public and they say, hey, we're, you know, we're trying to find some innovative people out there who might be able to look at this problem in a new and different way that we've never looked at before. So it really, I think, fosters some, you know, creative, out-of-the-box thinking.
And one really recent example that I think is super exciting is that the U.S. Election Assistance Commission recently did a challenge called: How can we design an accessible election experience for everyone? And they posted the challenge; it was available on Challenge.gov. And they got 11 winning concepts you know, which is again, it really encouraged folks to take a look at the variety of solutions that came through.
But a couple of them that were really, I think, exciting someone suggested a priority queue when you're in at the election booth similar to on the Metro or in a subway, there's priority seating for people with disabilities; this would give a priority queue for people with disabilities. There's also this idea of voting vans, which could be, sort of, you know, roving around and have scheduled visits with rehab centers and hospitals. And another idea is sort of an iPad absentee balloting app, which would again be available from for folks who might not be able to get to the polling place.
So that's just one example where challenges and innovations can really, I think, provide a much better experience to everyone, including people with disabilities. And we can also tap in to the expertise of people outside of sort of the traditional federal worker. And so that's a really exciting thing that we're doing.
And then just on a couple of other quick things. You also mentioned HowTo.gov, and that really is sort of the hub and the centerpiece for a lot of what we do in terms of providing best practices to agencies. And we emphasize collaboration with federal agencies so that, you know, GSA's not the only one, you know, leading this effort. So we tap in to experts from across the federal government specifically folks on the Federal Web Managers Council, which are the folks working in Web and new media across the federal space and we also tap in to folks at the state and local level. And we find out what they're doing and what's innovative and we identify those best practices. And then we have regular training programs through DigitalGov University. So we fell like we're making huge headway in terms of helping agencies improve the digital experience to the public online.
MR. TEMIN: All right. Thank you. And Greg Elin, Mr. Data at FCC
MR. ELIN: Hi.
MR. TEMIN: Give us an idea of the scope of data that's going on.
MR. ELIN: I will in a second, but I have to I have to call out the accomplishments over at the GSA that we just started to hear about from Sheila Campbell. I actually when I first started before I came into government, had an opportunity to do some work with open government informations. And I remember when Sheila was just starting to herd all of the cats of the webmasters in a general direction. And so in the past six years there's just been tremendous accomplishments from where we were in 2006 to where the number of people that are using social media and that are doing blogs at the website and what's happened. So it's actually everything that Sheila was just saying was just taking me back and reminding me about how far things have really come, if we cast back.
So I am at the Federal Communication Commission. We on occasion like to say that "Communication" is our middle name. And so it's
MR. TEMIN: Is there an S on communication or not?
MR. ELIN: Now, you've stumped me. At Federal Communication
MR. TEMIN: We'll look it up. In the meantime, keep going.
MR. ELIN: Federal Communication Commission, Federal Communication no, no S, I think. Now, you (chuckles). The so the Federal Communication Commission, which was set up in the 1930s, has really been about making sure that all Americans have equal access to the miracles of communication through wireline and wireless, and that used to be pretty much telephone, telegraph and radio. But since the 1930s, that has clearly expanded to all sorts of things, including sharing data online and data of an individual nature, et cetera.
The most recently, the passage of the 21st Century Video Communications Act I'm sorry the 21st Century Video Communications Act had a had a has placed some new responsibilities and some new challenges for the FCC to make sure that as we move from broadcast communications more and more into the world of personal communications over the Internet and through different channels, that all of these devices remain are become accessible to individuals to use. And the and I think at the heart of accessibility, it's making sure that information is well-structured as data and so that it can be easily transformed and can be re-purposed and can be used through different modes of communication.
The I think we'll come back and talk a little bit more about open government data in general because we're
MR. TEMIN: We sure will.
And Kathy Martinez, assistant secretary of labor for disability policy disability employment policy that's the key word for you, is "employment" and give us an idea of what's going on with respect to all this data and how it can apply to appointment and employment and innovation.
MS. MARTINEZ: Well, the importance of accessible technology and the implementation of universal design concepts in the workplace for people with disabilities really can't be overemphasized.
I'm somebody who happens to have been born blind, and without technology, there's no way I could do my job. I get approximately 300 emails a day, and there's no way that a human person could probably read all those emails every single day. At ODEP, we are examining the accessibility of technology all the way from the developer stage, where we're working with folks like the FCC and GSA and developers from different companies, so that they start to think of accessibility as standard operating practice, not something that's, quote, "special" or that should be an add-on or that is, you know what we want we want people to think as of accessibility as just part of the kind of technology culture, so that when a product gets developed, the accessibility is there right out of the box so folks like myself can have access to the not just the technology but the opportunities that the technology presents.
For example, if you if you don't have access to a certain smartphone, you may not have access to all the apps that the smartphone can that can be played on the smartphone. So it's really not just about work it's not only about work, but it's about the opportunities that the technology provides in extracurricular activities that pertain to work and work itself.
It's a support that we all take for granted, whether you're disabled or not, and we want the concept of accessibility to be woven throughout technology as it becomes developed.
MR. TEMIN: Interestingly that you would mention smartphones because I heard today there's a friendly debate, a friendly sort of tussle over the word "mobile" versus "mobility" because the "mobile" movement is data on the go, which can have a huge amount of leverage on accessibility for people, but "mobility," which is used interchangeably in the tech field with "mobile," but "mobility" also has a special meaning in the accessibility field for people who have mobility impairments. So I just heard that one kind of as sidelight today, as somehow the two worlds are coming together, mobility (sic\mobile) and mobility, depending on which direction you're coming at it from.
So, Greg, give us an idea of the scope of federal data, maybe using FCC as an example, because I don't people think of the FCC necessarily as a data-driven agency, necessarily.
MR. ELIN: Well, actually, the Federal Communication Commission is one of the largest collectors of data in the federal government as measured by unique sets of information that we collect, not necessarily total volume I think that the census would win out on that but in terms of different types of information that is collected from the industry and the marketplace, the FCC is actually up there in the top 10.
And a lot of that has to do with everything from those little disclosure those little the disclosure information that used to be in hotel rooms of what your phone call would cost, making sure that people understood what they were getting for before they were billed for use of a service, to other types of collection, such as what are the convenience contact points for close captioning at television stations, making sure that we have information in one place. So the scope is pretty wide.
And I think that federal government has always worked with data and has always made data publicly available the idea that it was kind of built in from the very beginning about collecting a census, who is the population, in order that you can do democracy and representative and representation.
So the idea that data has always been around. The idea of sharing that data has always been around in federal government the idea of the Federal Register and that Congress will report on its activities to the general public. So there's been a long tradition of information sharing.
And but that, of course, since we've had this long tradition it, for a long time, has been in paper format and has the information as well the data was collected in different the Census was collecting data before we had before we had computers.
And what we're beginning to see so the scope of it is really extraordinarily broad in terms of type of data that the government has access to, collects and shares. I don't know if other than the number that you gave at the beginning or the reference point at the beginning, I wouldn't be able to give a better number.
But I think what's happening now is that there's a there's a certain magic that happens when information becomes digital and when data becomes digital. And when you move from writing on paper or taking photographs with film to doing this stuff electronically and digitally, there's a certain magic that happens. And most of the benefits that happen when you go to digital accrue to the producer of the information. It becomes easier to edit the document, easier to edit the photos and produce the information.
After that, there's a certain there's another type of magic that happens when information or data goes online. And when information that's digital becomes online, there's an advantage that accrues to the users of the information because now that they can just go get it when that online means the Web, they don't have to ask someone for it, they don't have to send away for it, publishers don't have to make multiple copies of it; you just go get it when that information is online.
I think then what happens after that, the third kind of step change is when data becomes available as a platform or as an application programming interface in which, instead of one author publishing the information to many readers or users, you suddenly have the ability for one machine to publish information for another machine to use. And when two machines can start to use that information and interact and interactively access that information, it's possible for lots of things to happen very quickly.
And I think when people talk about open government data, what we're really talking about is moving many of the government's information assets from paper to digital, from digital to online and from being online to being available as a platform in which other machines can use that information and transform it.
MR. TEMIN: All right. Good.
And Sheila Campbell, GSA, just it's probably maybe sounds obvious but I think it's worth discussing how the idea of open government itself has changed and evolved as a result of having all of this digital format data, which is still kind of a freewheeling Wild West out there. But we're getting some control versus when it was paper and the government had 200 reading rooms across the country.
MS. CAMPBELL: Yeah, absolutely. It's evolved incredibly rapidly, but it's interesting to see where we've made progress and, obviously, where we still have quite a bit of improvement to make. And it's interesting listening to what Greg was saying, and I'm looking at it from the perspective sort of of the federal Web community. And what I think they're dealing with is they've got these legacy systems that have been built up over many, many years, and so these massive websites with, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of Web pages. And I think this is what's
MR. TEMIN: I've been lost in them myself.
MS. CAMPBELL: yes. And I and not all of them are quite that massive, but it it's because we have digitized so much content and information. So in a way it's very good that so much of this information is available. But then, of course, how do you manage it all with limited resources? And I think this is where the accessibility piece is really interesting is that accessibility hasn't always been built into, sort of, the development life cycle and so these websites, some which were built with not always with accessibility in mind. Those, obviously, people know it's critically important and some have been.
So it's just a it's just uneven. There are some websites that are very accessibility for people with disabilities and others that are less so. And so what we found is that we're really trying to encourage agencies, again, to think about this at the very very beginning of the development process because what's happened now is that agencies are trying to do some retrofitting and it's very costly, very labor intensive and very difficult to do.
And so we conduct some training, we provide tools to agencies and what I think has really been a big impetus now is the release of the digital government strategy, which came out in May of this year. And the digital government strategy calls for a number of requirements for both GSA and OMB to provide guidance and then for agencies, you know, to implement change. And so one of the things it calls for many things, but as one example is that in the next couple months we'll be releasing new guidelines for improving digital services and customer experience. And as part of that, we definitely want to have a renewed focus on accessibility.
And there's a lot of really, I think, good things going on in that space right now. Agencies are starting to look at responsive design, so how do you develop from the very beginning for different devices? We're looking at shared tools, for example, shared captioning tools and especially for video content. Video content is exploding and agencies I think are struggling with, how do you, in a cost-effective way, make sure that you're providing the captioning? And right now we're seeing that each agency's trying to figure this out on their own and so that's an example where GSA and other agencies, I think, can come together and start to look for some shared solutions.
MR. TEMIN: OK. Lots to explore.
MS. CAMPBELL: Yeah.
MR. TEMIN: Our theme today is "Inspiring Innovation Engaging Citizens in the Development of Accessible Workplace Technology." Our guests are Greg Elin, chief data officer of the Federal Communication Commission; Sheila Campbell, director of the Center for Excellence in Digital Government at GSA; and Kathy Martinez, assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy.
And Kathy, I wanted to ask you in the context of this avalanche, really, tsunami of data that is still growing in the world versus the days when everything was paper and analog, has it been a boon for accessibility and employment, a bust? Are we still figuring our way out of the wave form? What's going on?
MS. MARTINEZ: Well, I think we're I think it's been both. You know, in the days of online commands and kind of text, we were in heaven, right, especially if you were blind because everything the playing field was kind of leveled, but as soon the graphical user interface came online, that made things a little more difficult. And so our adaptive technology took, probably, you know, a year or so to catch up with every new innovation.
But now I think we're kind of hopefully the playing field is beginning to level and we're trying to engage, I think, to make this happen, we're engaging the public more for solutions. For example: ODEP just hosted its first app challenge, through Challenge.gov, and the thing that was so interesting the whole point was that the contestants develop apps that would help folks with disabilities get employment. And it was a pretty broad swaths and it attracted almost 25 or 2,500 followers from the public and received approximately 35 submissions, 18 of which made it into the public submissions gallery for voting.
So, you know, I think we're looking at I think, with these types of challenges that government is requesting the public to participate in, you know, we're, as Sheila said earlier, we're seeking solutions through the public. And so we have actually gotten three winners.
MR. TEMIN: I was going to ask, what do these apps do that you picked among from the heap?
MS. MARTINEZ: Well shoot, I can't find my information about the winners, but
MR. TEMIN: Well, let's come back that (off mic)
MS. MARTINEZ: let's come back to that, but I
MR. TEMIN: Yeah, because I want you'll find it and we'll get back to it.
MS. MARTINEZ: Yeah, and I know that we're also using our website, disability.gov, to you know, to push out information, but really the bottom line is to have technology out of the box that's usable for all kinds of things, you know, and of course employment being the centerpiece for us. But I think that the government sees, now, the value of having things accessible. It's much cheaper to build them accessibly rather than to retrofit and I think I think we're definitely heading in that direction.
MR. TEMIN: And Greg, yeah, you can talk about that, app challenges, sure.
MR. ELIN: I just want to jump in. Now, we're yeah, there's we're at this kind of wonderful convergence, right now, where everyone is communicating through devices. You know, it's that everybody is using technology to help them do their work, to help them communicate and so if suddenly someone has a slightly different device that they're using as part of the communication change, it's not it doesn't stand out as much as it as it might have one day, as it might have in the past.
And I think likewise, Sheila was talking about responsive design and Secretary Martinez was talking about the apps challenge; we now, as developers, have to develop for many platforms. We're no long developing just for Web browser. We're thinking about different sized screen, we're thinking about different devices with different capabilities. And so it's a natural fit to think very early on, how do I make my information easily transmutable, if you will, for different devices, including a device that might be a screen reader or including something that might speak the text. And thinking about all these things very early on, it's a wonderful opportunity.
And with respect to app challenges, you know, two-thirds of most technology projects fail, period. Right? So it is it's not always the case that a planned technology project let succeeds, let alone something that you're doing via a contest. But what you get from a contest and a challenge is that you suddenly are creating a small community that's striving towards a particular goal, learning about the challenges and issues, getting to work with each other, getting to share new ideas. You might get a particular application that's a real hit and provides value, but what you definitely get is an increase in the skill set, learning about the problem and ideas that can be applied moving forward.
MS. MARTINEZ: I think I did find the winners and I have to say that so many of the applications we received were winners, but we were only able to award three prizes. And so the Innovation Award went to Access Job, which is a job search protocol specifically designed for job seekers with disability; the Above and Beyond Accessibility Award went to AC (ph) or AccDC, I think it's called Accelerated Dynamic Content, which is a content management system that automates content to ensure accessibility for screen readers and keyboard-only users; and then the People's Choice Award went to VoisPal, which is a speak-as-you-think app. So as Greg said, you know, many of these people, probably, really hadn't thought about what it would take or they hadn't thought about the fact that there might be an app that could really help people with disability find employment. And if you, you know, if you notice, these three apps all had the same goal, but they came at it from very different perspectives.
MR. TEMIN: All right. We're going to have to download those ones and try them out. And Sheila, you were saying that you're working on new guidelines for development and for usability. And I have to think that as the next generation of websites gets developed or redeveloped, that accessibility is going to be something not added on later, but almost intrinsic to it, partly because everybody could use a little help, it seems, these days just with if nothing just larger type or more clarity in navigation.
MS. CAMPBELL: That's very true. And I think that one of the things that we continue to emphasize, and there's a very strong federal accessibility community, as we all know, so the idea is to work very closely in collaboration with those experts, but is to really encourage this idea of thinking about the end user at the very beginning of any development life cycle.
And the other thing is to not just sort of pigeonhole accessibility, you know, over to the side. That is to say, you know, designing for people with disabilities if you design for people with disabilities, you're designing for everyone. And that's actually, you know, the right thing to do, but it's also an effective way to, you know, manage your operations so that, again, you're not just designing for this group over here or this group over here.
And there's a lot of parallels. There's also parallels with the multilingual community and people who need information in other languages, as we need to be thinking about what their needs are up front and, if their needs are unique, making sure that we design for them.
And so it's this sort of approach you know, sort of universal design approach, which is to say let's we need to really design for multiple devices.
And I think actually it's a good thing that, you know, sort of the average person has had so much more access to a wider variety of devices than they had 10 years ago. I mean, before, it used to just be your had desktop computer, and that's all you really knew. And now people have multiple devices, they know what it's like to use an iPhone, and then they know that it's they have a different experience using different types of technology. So I think that helps, you know, I think, enhance the awareness.
But yes, the guidelines that are being called for are going to be issued in late November and in collaboration with the Federal Web Managers Council. And it's we're looking at a whole at a real sort of diverse set of things that we need to be looking at.
And I should say too that we're also trying to look beyond this concept of websites, so that it's how do we develop guidelines for all digital services, so not just for websites over here and mobile apps over here, but really when you it's to think about what is the content that we're trying to design and what is the ultimate customer experience that we want people to have. So whether you're applying for student financial aid or trying to file your taxes, what do we want that experience to be? No matter what device people are at or where they whether they're on the street corner or at their home or overseas, you know, serving in the military, what do we want that experience to be?
And so there's an approach of looking at sort of mapping out that customer experience, and so that's the kind of training and best practices that we want to develop.
MR. TEMIN: Let me just ask this.
MS. CAMPBELL: Yeah.
MR. TEMIN: Is there a gap between what is required by Section 508, for example, and what current best practices really are?
MS. CAMPBELL: Well, as I think many of the listeners probably listening in today know that that is being refreshed as we speak. And so I think the refresh of the 508 guidelines is going to be really key, and I think that will help close the gap significantly.
MR. ELIN: I want to affirmatively answer that. Yes, there are almost always is a gap between official guidelines and the realities of the technology and the marketplace and what people are trying to do. And that always and that represents a challenge of how of how you deal with that gap.
And I think a great example is, I don't think that any of the 508 standards that are easy to look up or learn say anything about you make a map accessible. And making a map accessible is really critically important in many applications that we have at the FCC because you're really curious where is service, right?
And so, you know, it's and this is an opportunity. If the federal government or if a research institution can crack the nut on how you make maps accessible that are delivered online, right, I mean, then that's something that would be a huge advantage for all of us.
But the guidelines are utterly silent, as far as I know, about that particular topic.
MS. MARTINEZ: Well, the 508 wasn't developed you know, when 508
MR. ELIN: Who thought that you could get a map online in a website?
MS. MARTINEZ: Exactly.
MR. ELIN: Right.
MS. MARTINEZ: And who thought that there would be mobile phones that talked? I mean, there's just you know, the 508 needs to be refreshed, which we're working on, and it just it you know, it just became outdated as technology advanced.
MR. TEMIN: And Kathy, can you tell, as someone with a disability, when you visit a site, can you is there a sense about a or a digital service, we should say, not just a website, as Sheila mentioned is can you tell when they are complying and when there's a certain exuberance behind trying to make it really accessible for people?
MS. MARTINEZ: I was actually just on a website this morning probably shouldn't mention the name, but it was a sports team and or still is, and there it was surprisingly
MR. TEMIN: Are they in the running for a championship?
MS. MARTINEZ: I'm not going to say
MR. TEMIN: All right. (Chuckles.)
MS. MARTINEZ: But they were their
MR. ELIN: I hope it's not the Yanks. (It would be so ?)
MS. MARTINEZ: their website was incredibly accessible. And they said right on it, we are doing our best to make this site accessible; please give us any feedback. And I you know, I didn't have much time, but the questions I needed to have answered got answered. There was I could tell where the form fields were to fill in information, if I had time to do that. I felt like, you know, it was pretty well laid out.
So yeah, you can tell when something's not accessible. If you can't I mean, sometimes you don't know what you don't know, but very often you can tell when things aren't accessible, if you can't, you know, fill it fill in information, if you can't fill form fields or access the information. You know, you'll hear something like "button" and you don't know what the button's for. (Chuckles.) So
MR. TEMIN: Right, so they're meeting the minimum, but they're not really into it, if you will.
MS. MARTINEZ: Right, but this particular situation, they were very they were seeking input, and that was very impressive.
MR.TEMIN: And so for an employment standpoint, that means the government, as an employer, and private employers need to think more in than think beyond simple compliance, think
MS. MARTINEZ: You know, at some point paper resumes will be nonexistent. I mean, most of the time that people apply for jobs, they're going online and filling out and posting their resume online. Many of these sites are not accessible. And I know that the federal government has gotten better, but I think we still have a long way to go.
When you're when you're an employee of the federal government, you know, there's other things that you need to do besides your job, like fill in your timesheet, fill out a travel form, go to your benefits site. So you know and I think the folks at GSA are very well aware of this and are working on making these sites accessible, as are the individual agencies.
But as the federal government hires more people with disabilities, in response to the president's executive order from 2010, people will need these types of services that are sort of indirectly related to their employment, more and more.
MR. TEMIN: I guess we should ask Sheila (chuckling) are maps part of the new standards that are coming out? Is it maps or is it really any kind of flat graphic information, blueprints? I don't know
MS. CAMPBELL: I think we're looking very broadly at all types of content. I don't think we've dived quite into that level of granularity. But absolutely it needs to include everything.
And actually, I think we just touched on something that's really key here, is to be able to share the code. And that's one of the big things that we're looking at, is that if one agency has developed an accessible map of the U.S. or an accessible form, we should be sharing that code with other agencies, so we're not trying to constantly reinvent the wheel. And I think that's a big, big part of the digital strategy. A big component of it is this concept of, you know, shared solutions and shared platforms.
And this is where GSA can really step in and play a leadership role, because that is our job, is to, you know, convene agencies, figure out who are the pioneering agencies who are doing really good things in different spaces. And I don't think there's not one single agency who is, you know, far afield in one area, and that's
MR. ELIN: Are you sure?
MS. CAMPBELL: (Chuckles.)
MR. ELIN: Are you sure, Sheila?
MS. CAMPBELL: The FCC, perhaps. (Laughter.) Maybe GSA's second, right behind.
But that's I think that's our part of our job. What we do really well is that we've created this really strong network of folks working in Web and new media and digital services. And so we have a good sense of, hey, Agency X over here is really, you know, at the forefront of social media; this agency over here is doing great stuff in terms of data; and trying to find out who those leaders are; and then, you know, look for those opportunities where we can share the solutions.
MR. TEMIN: That idea of open data and the openness of it I think, Greg, that's a theme you have been harping on for some time and really pushing, is the idea of data that's not just there but also machine readable
MR. ELIN: Right.
MR. TEMIN: accessible by all applications, in many media.
MR. ELIN: Yes.
MR. TEMIN: Explore that a little bit with us.
MR. ELIN: Well, so I think no matter how great of an application we might build at the FCC or a particular agency, we're only going to be able to build one or two versions of that application. But as we see from the number of different apps that you can get to do things on your iPhone or on your android, that people really like things that fit their particular comfort zone think people like stuff that comes in different colors, different shapes, different sizes. And if you can and so if you can make the underlying information, the underlying data available for other people to use, it becomes much easier to have a proliferation of different embodiments and different user experiences of the information or the service that you're trying to provide.
And key to that is the notion of making available making your data available in structured ways that other devices can read. I think a good example of that is, you know, if the Department of Labor published some statistics on a monthly basis about new leads for, say, new numbers related to employment of people with disabilities, or some other tip sheet or something like that, you know, once a month, I could go, I could download that information, I could republish it on my own website. But if the Department of Labor suddenly starts updating that once a week or starts updating it once a day, it becomes very burdensome for me to every single day manually go get that file, look at the information in the file, recreate my Web pages that embody the select information that I pull out of that, that becomes very, very cumbersome for me to do. But if they make that information available in machine-readable format, then I can program my computer to just go get it.
And I'm going to give a I'm going to hold the floor for a little bit longer to give a very concrete example, something that we did at the FCC which I'm very excited about. So the Communications Video Accessibility Act gave the FCC a requirement that we had to publish on our website a list of accessible communication devices, and we had to update that list every year, right? So the idea would be is that there would be a clearinghouse where you could find out the accessibility features of different mobile phones, of different devices, of and eventually TV sets because TV sets are getting more interactive, and you want to be able to go someplace where you can find the accessibility features for those devices.
Now, the traditional way that government would have gathered that clearinghouse together is we would have done a rule-making in which we say we need this information, we need it from all manufacturers. We would have put together a form that would have had to go to OMB for Paperwork Reduction Act review, and we would have and we would have said, this is the information that you have to give us about these devices. Now, simultaneously, the government of Australia is doing that. The EU is doing that. So the manufacturers are going, come on, you know, I here is another burdensome requirement that government is putting on me to file this information. I have to do it one way for Australia, California now wants this information, and et cetera, et cetera. And we would have had an expensive process of kind of of trying to get this information.
MR. TEMIN: And it would have taken two years.
MR. ELIN: And it would have taken a substantial amount of time.
What we did instead, as it turns out, that the Mobile Manufacturers Forum, on their own initiatives, a couple of years ago had started to gather the accessibility features of the mobile phones of their members. And they had compiled something that's referred to as GARI. It's a data set of over 400 mobile phones and the accessibility features measured along a hundred-plus different dimensions, right? So does it have a raised keyboard? Can I easily interchange the battery? What is the head hearing aid accessibility compatibility rating? So there are all these different ratings. And they gathered this information from the mobile manufacturers.
And so we went and we talked to the Mobile Manufacturing (sic) Forum, and we said, you know what, you guys should publish that data that you have on your website that's publicly available to everyone you should publish it as a data feed under a Creative Commons license so that anybody can use it, and we will just suck that information up, and we will put it in the accessibility clearinghouse. No Paperwork Reduction Act, no new requirement on the on the vendors. We'll just get the information from you, and we'll eventually figure out how we can get information from other companies as well. But we'll start with some data that already is out there on the Web. And we worked with them to get them to you know, because they had never done a Creative Commons license before. They hadn't done a data feed before. So we worked with them. They produced this. We consume it. And so now we have it on their website.
And one of the nice things is, is that it comes with pictures of the phones. Now, if we as a government agency had tried to figure out to do a PRA request, which included pictures of the individual devices of the phone so that you could see what you're looking at, that would have been a nightmare, and probably people would have just said, no, let's not do that. But now we've got the data. It's included.
And the punch line of this story is that they're now letting us make this information available through our own APIs, so you can get it directly from the FCC. They're having conversations with vendors about making information available on vendor websites. And they're about to add more information into their data feed that represents different types of devices. I don't know how much I can say at this moment, but
MS.: Like, tablets, or (off mic)?
MR. ELIN: Yes, they're going to be adding tablets.
MS.: Yeah, that's what I (thought ?).
MR. ELIN: Right, they're going to be adding tablets. And I and don't tweet that, anybody, just in case it's not public yet. But they are adding more they are adding more devices.
And what that means is we pick that information up for free as you know, we don't have to we don't have to do a new PRA, we don't have to revise anything; we're just getting it.
MR. TEMIN: OK. Our theme today is inspiring innovation and gauging citizens in the development of accessible workplace technology. Our guests are Greg Elin, who you just heard, chief data officer of the Federal Communications Commission; Sheila Campbell is director of the Center for Excellence in Digital Government at the GSA; and Kathy Martinez, assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy.
And Kathy, one of the big developments where work and devices and all come together is something called BYOD, bring your own device. And of course, automobile mechanics have been doing this for decades; that's why they have snap-on trucks. If you want to fix cars and get a job, you got to bring your own tools. That goes back decades. People with disabilities might have always had to bring, to some extent, their tools needed. What's your take on BYOD as an employment aid for people with disabilities and the accessibility movement?
MS. MARTINEZ: Depends on how accessibility the D is or accessible the D is. I think you know, with some of the phones now, some of the smartphones, we're in good shape as long as the agency that we work for supports them. Some of the smartphones or and tablets are extremely accessible, and some are less so. But I think, you know, as agencies learn as the government learns what which products are more accessible, I'm assuming, you know, that they'll make the sensible choice and purchase those. But I think, you know, it's something to think about when as the largest employer, when we purchase vast quantities of, you know, cellphones or tablets or whatever we might be buying, that we make sure that they're accessible and can work for the majority of the employees.
MR. TEMIN: So Sheila, I imagine the BYOD movement is really pushing along the imperatives you are, which is open sharing of data, use by many applications Greg also because within a reasonable range, you're not sure what people are going to bring. They can't bring a Palm III anymore, you know, or an Apple Newton. But there is beyond that, there is a lot of devices out there.
MS. CAMPBELL: You're absolutely right. And I actually encourage your listeners to check out the BYOD guidance that was recently issued as part of the digital government strategy. And if you go to gsa.gov and type in "BYOD guidance," you'll find it there. And obviously, as Assistant Secretary Martinez mentioned, accessibility, you know, has to be a big piece of that, but that, you know, security and privacy are also, you know, huge factors. So, you know, it's pretty complex and pretty complicated. But the idea is, is that federalwide guidance has been issued on it. So again, it's another example where we don't want every agency out there trying to figure it out on their own. There should be some a consistent, standard approach to this, and so that's what the digital strategy really is emphasizing.
And I'll just mention, two, I think this all kind of circles back around to, again, looking at, you know, sort of starting with the point of what's the end user. You know, who's the end user in mind. How are they going to be, you know, using the data. And one of the things, I think, that's going to be a big focus of these new guidelines that come out in a couple months is to think about what is, again, the experience that we want people to have online. And there's a there's a lot of components to it.
There is also plain language, which is another key piece, and I think that's actually sometimes forgotten in the whole accessibility discussion, that plain language is actually really key to making things accessible, because what we've seen, in some cases, is again, you I think you have this phenomena where websites just get set up sometimes very quickly because there is a new initiative and someone wants to launch a website on short notice, and so the content sometimes is sort of slapped together, and it's just a wall of words, and people don't think, wait a second, how do we actually need to structure the content, how do we need to write in a compelling way, how do we write in plain language? Because again, if you're accessing content from a screen reader and there is way too much content, it's way too dense, it's way too complex, it's going to just take you a longer time to get through the content. So plain language, I think, is really key there.
And the other thing is just doing testing, doing more regular product testing. And I think there is not enough of that that is done in the federal space. And I'll just one of the things that we've done recently is over the last couple of years we launched a new program called the First Fridays Product Testing Program. And it's been hugely successful. In fact, one of the first sites that we tested was the Department of Labor's website, and they were a great partner. And the idea is that we invite agencies to come sit in a conference room in GSA and for a morning, the first Friday of every month hence the name of the program. And we recruit three participants. We keep it super, super simple and easy. And of course it's free. And we walk them through a series of tasks on the website for about a half an hour.
MR.: It's almost like usability testing.
MS. CAMPBELL: It's usability testing, precisely. And again, the focus is on keeping it super simple. And so as an outcome, then, you know, we do a debriefing and we say, OK, what are the three most serious problems that people encountered on the website and what are solutions that can be completed within the next 30 days? So again, you know, we don't give people an 80-page, you know, written report that they have to, you know, mull through and things never get fixed. We say, let's focus on the three most critical things.
And I think the outcome of that program is that I think we've raised awareness of the importance of usability testing. People can see, you know, in a real-life way, hey, this is how people are actually experiencing our website. And we try to get some, you know, pretty senior executives at the table, and they've been hugely impressed. And I think it's also important just for people to realize, wait, the website is the sort of the front door. It's our face to the public. And sometimes I think we tend to forget that because we're so close to it and we forget that there are millions of people who are coming to our website every day and that's the impression that they have.
And in terms of employment, a lot of times people are making employment decisions. The first thing that I do when I know you know, that I know people do when they're looking for a job is they go to that organization's website. Well, if people say, hey, I want to work for Department of Labor, FCC or Social Security Administration, they're going to go to their website. And if they can't get what they need or they don't get a good impression, they're going to say, maybe I don't want to work for this organization.
So it's hugely important for us to make our websites usable and accessible and for people to be able to accomplish what they need.
MR. TEMIN: These aren't always easy questions, because let's take the case of the FCC website, which was redone about a year ago. I think you can still get to the classic version. And in many ways it was a vast improvement. There was a young lady that worked there that led that whole program I think it was Haley Van Dyck and did a great job there. On the other hand, there was a small but vocal community that was professional users of that site for decades, people from the industries regulated from the ‘30s, that knew their way around the old way. It was terrible for the average citizen, terrific for people that actually interacted with FCC. So how do you balance those kinds of decisions when revamping digital services?
MR. ELIN: I think Sheila made mention earlier that these websites over time have grown really large. People have been excited for years about, hey, I can suddenly put information online. And we have just and so we and we at the FCC, in the same way that we have lots of information collections, we have lots of different constituencies and bureaus and offices that serve those groups, and we have we have sprawling content because we cover a sprawling industry.
And we actually, in terms of best practices and usability, we have to rethink that entire notion. It is not enough to redo a home page or to even redo a website. It is rethinking in the 21st century how are we going to manage an ever-growing amount of online information? And we aren't going to get there by we have to rethink this. We have to go we can't just say, I'm going to redesign my website; we have to really think, now what are our goals? As Secretary Martinez was saying earlier, people now have devices that speak, and we
MR. TEMIN: And shake.
MR. ELIN: -- and shake and do all sorts of different things, and we have to completely rethink what we're doing. And I think one of the things that we're starting to think about internally is, what is the life cycle of a piece of content before we put it on the Web? Right? So it's not, oh, I'm going to put it up there, and then in a year or two years, I'll figure out what I'll do with it. It's, what is that life cycle, who are those users of that piece of information, before it even gets out there? And I think to some extent I could keep going along on this particular path, but it's a much larger challenge that we face, I think, than simply redoing a website. Otherwise
MS. MARTINEZ: I think that, you know, you also have to think of your audience, and the fact that we have an audience that's aging. And most of these folks, you know, haven't really dealt with websites, but more and more they're going to have to because I think certain things are probably not going to be available on paper. So, you know, that's another challenge. And most of these aging folks, or many of them, will still be employed because they can't afford not to work.
So I think in terms of open government, making ourselves welcoming to them is another challenge. But it's a you know, it's a tsunami of baby boomers that are turning 65 every day that we're going to have to accommodate.
MR. ELIN: I would like to say, if there's anyone who's on the call who's wondering about a career, either a career in government or the general field that we're talking about, I would encourage people to be more than an accessibility expert. I wish that I was working with people in our security division in our Cybersecurity Division that understood accessibility. I wish my database administrators happened to have dabbled in accessibility. And so it's not this one voice or it's even not the one voice plus the UX designers, but it that everyone in this because stuff that we do in the government has to clear a variety of different hurdles, and we need people in all of those areas who understand the value of accessibility.
MR. TEMIN: I just want to call out two great examples from the commercial field that I came across recently. Without mentioning names, one was (chuckles) talk about keeping old information available was an appliance that I have that's 20 years old, needed a part. And since that thing was made, they've made hundreds of models and thousands of variations. And this website walks you back in time: Is it this or this? All right, if it's the is it this or this? And eventually you take enough steps, and bang! There's your version right there. And it tells you what to order and so forth. That was one.
And another one was a large provider of digital services, the universal everybody knows who they are is offering two-factor authentication to get onto their sites where you access your services. And if you don't have a trusted computer or you're somewhere where you don't want to so they will send you a second, one-time-use password. The beauty of it is they'll send it to you as a text message to your cellphone. They will send it to you in a free code-generating application you can put on your smartphone kind of like those you know, the little devices people fobs people used to have. Or they'll send you a voicemail, which I thought was a pretty darn comprehensive way to get at that kind of thing.
So that's from commercial, what's possible. Sheila, going forward, what's possible in the federal government?
MS. CAMPBELL: (Chuckles.) I think there's a tremendous amount that's possible in this space. I think we started off by saying how far we've come and how much room we have to grow. I think the again, I keep kind of coming back to the digital government strategy, but I really encourage people to read that because I think it really sets forward a new just a new approach, a new way of looking how at how we manage our content online. And I think the principles of that strategy are is that people should be able to access government information and services anywhere, anytime, on any device. And I think that's really, I think if that's our guiding principle moving forward, I think that that will carry us a long, long way. I think what's
MR. TEMIN: And work off the idea of developing for mobility mobile devices first, and then backing into the big screen.
MS. CAMPBELL: Right. There's some, I think, debate about that; I think there's different schools of thought on whether that's the right approach. I think it's still evolving. In fact, we have had a number of we had a webinar on that I think actually just a few weeks ago where it was like, mobile first; is that the right approach? And different agencies have tried different things there. But I think, absolutely, mobile has to be on the forefront of everyone's minds. And I think, again, that will help with I think that is going to be a game changer for the accessibility issue, too.
So I think one of the key things, too, is just prioritization. We can't change all of this overnight. And one of the other that the digital strategy calls for is for agencies is to pick top you know, two top services, what are those things that are going to have the biggest impact for the most people, that's really going to change their have an impact on their daily lives, and fix that, get that done well, and then learn from that and then try to take those lessons learned and, you know, incorporate them into other services.
And the other big piece, I think, is just is collaboration and innovation. And I think we were talking at the first part of the call about challenges and innovation prizes, and we're seeing huge opportunities there for agencies to collaborate and find solutions together so not just to work in our agency silos.
So again, I think it's that universal access anyplace, anywhere, anytime and collaboration and innovation.
MR. TEMIN: All right. Well, thank you, and thank you for all the great work you're doing.
Greg, I wanted to ask you just to comment in the couple of minutes we have left, before we we'll wind up with Ms. Martinez, but talk to us about the idea of how accessible features on content, such as captioning something, has the double benefit of making accessible to other applications. I think you mentioned the example of video can then be rendered as text, if it has a closed caption.
MR. ELIN: Well, I don't know what to say; you've said it so eloquently. (Laughter.) I
MR. TEMIN: Well, I'm just I'm a good parrot. (Laughter.)
MR. ELIN: I think I think that it's very it's easy to get our hands around that if when as soon as we started close captioning broadcast news shows or other information or as soon as we start web close captioning our webcasts, that information is now searchable by very traditional search engine means because it doesn't have to figure out the voice, it's just actually looking at the text.
Now, if you wanted to take that a step further, let's say that someone got really smart and said, as a way of closed captioning, I figured out a way to tag content as I go. Right? I'm tagging content and I'm and I'm you know, beyond whether it's just someone speaking or not, but I'm tagging different things. Well, now that would make that content even more accessible to individuals and it would make it more accessible to search the video stream if those if those tags happen to be there, as an example. And I think we're seeing there's a variety of project that are along those lines.
I do want to mention, if you're interested in this, we are having tomorrow and Thursday and Friday at the FCC, a two-day Developing with Accessibility event.
MR. TEMIN: That would be September 6th and 7th.
MR. ELIN: September 6th and 7th. So if you just went to FCC.gov/events, you can see the information for this. And of course, to make it accessible, we are communicating through different modes, and it will be webcasted
MR. TEMIN: All right.
MR. ELIN: so you don't have to be in D.C.
MR. TEMIN: And Assistant Secretary Martinez, we'll give you the last 60 seconds.
MS. MARTINEZ: OK. Well, I just want to say that, you know, through I would say, in the last hundreds in the last hundreds of years, innovation has come about because of a need. And very often disability has been the impetus for lots of innovation. Just look at the curb ramp, as an example.
MR.: The telephone.
MS. MARTINEZ: Right. The telephone, the typewriter, the optical character recognition there's been so much that has evolved because of somebody trying to make a system accessible for people with disability. So I think this a wonderful discussion and I know that because of the collaborations that are being created through these challenges, through these developer days, I know that the discussion will continue, but not only discussion but action. So I'm feeling very confident that accessibility is a priority.
MR. TEMIN: All right. Well, we're going to end right there.
We thank you for joining today's podcast, "Inspiring Innovation Engaging Citizens in the Development of Accessible Workplace Technology." Our convener has been the U.S. Department of Labor's office of Disability Employment Policy. Guests: Greg Elin, chief data officer of the FCC; Sheila Campbell, director of the Center for Excellence in Digital Government at the GSA; and Kathy Martinez, assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy.
Our thanks to all of you for listening today. This archived podcast will be available for listening again at dol.gov/odep (sic), starting tomorrow. All of our contact information will be at the podcast website, if you'd like to reach out directly to us, following the event.
Thanks for joining us. I'm Tom Temin.