The law and simple justice require that people with disabilities have equal access to public sector information technology
- Louis Gutierrez, CIO, ITD
I now have a copy of the letter that Massachusetts CIO Louis Gutierrez has sent to representatives of the community of people with disabilities, and there are a number of details that I was very pleased to see. My biggest question has now been answered: the Information Technology Division (ITD) has delayed its planned date for full ODF implementation by all Executive Agency users by only six months, to June of 2007. Early adopter implementations of plugin software (including at the Massachusetts Office on Disability) will begin in January of next year.
These dates are still dependent on the activities of a number of third parties, but are presumably based upon best available information at this time. These dependencies include:
…the adoption by the OASIS standard setting organization of ODF Version 1.1 (which will address minor accessibility issues related to the format itself), the timely delivery of completed translators by one or more of the multiple vendors that are currently developing this technology, and the validated accessibility of the translators themselves. In order to meet our implementation timetable, the Commonwealth requires delivery of a translator suitable for use by early adopters by November of this year. At each stage of this implementation, accessibility will be our first priority.
The letter does not identify which translators it is expecting to license, and suggests that none may yet be ready for final testing and certification.
The letter makes good on Secretary of Administration and Finance Thomas Trimarco’s promise to the same list of recipients on January 13, 2006 that the ITD would review the state of the accessibility art in ODF software, and, if necessary, adjust the implementation date for requiring the Executive
The letter also describes the results of the ITD’s evaluation process, and its conclusions:
Earlier this year, alternative ODF-supporting office suites were being considered by ITD. The accessibility of these applications, and their ability to work with assistive technology, has improved steadily. Over time these suites will improve the options available to people with disabilities. However, it is our judgment that they are unlikely to be fully supported by assistive technology vendors, or alternatively to include fully functional adaptations in the packaged product, by January 1, 2007, the original target date for ODF implementation.
But promising new projects are underway this year to create translator software that will enable the Microsoft Office suite to translate documents from Microsoft formats to ODF and vice versa. Upon public release and validation, these tools will enable Executive Department agencies to begin implementing ODF while leveraging the installed base of Microsoft Office and available assistive technologies. We anticipate one or more of these projects to allow ODF adoption to commence before January 1, 2007.
The letter also says that the role of plugins as the only acceptable means of achieving ODF capability will be termporary, and that ODF compliant software and improvements in third party tools will permit the Executive Agencies to achieve compliance through these means in the not too distant future.
Other items of interest in the letter include the following:
- The ITD will now review the Enterprise Technical Reference Model every six months “to take into account changes in information technology, evolving standards, and new accessibility concerns”
- The transition to ODF is part of an overall, multiyear transition to service oriented architectures
- Joe Lazzaro will lead a new accessibility group within the ITD
- The ITD has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Massachusetts Office on Disability and the Executive Office of Human Services. The MOU:
…memorializes our understanding that the goals of the Commonwealth’s efforts in this area should be the accessibility and usability of technology and the transition to new or upgraded systems that are as seamless for people with disabilities as they are for people without disabilities.
The full text of the MOU may be viewed at http://www.mass.gov/itd (click on the Accessibility Memorandum of Understanding link under “News”).
With this action, and the favorable reception of its content last Friday at a meeting between Gutierrez and representatives of the community of people with disabilities, the way now seems clear to a full rollout of ODF only six months after the original, doubtless overly ambitious target date.
I’m impressed that the full implementation of ODF will be delayed by such a short period of time, given all that has transpired over the past year. Louis Gutierrez is to be congratulated for stepping so successfully into a turbulent situation, gaining the confidence of those with disabilities, and delivering on the promise of open standards to all citizens of Massachusetts, regardless of their individual situations.
Update: Here’s the full text of the letter on line.
For further blog entries on ODF, click here