SOURCE: Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA)

January 29, 2007 10:51 ET

The Assistive Technology Industry Association Teams Up With IBM, AOL, Canon and Others to Drive Business Integration of Accessibility

New Forum Shows Companies How to Leverage Accessibility Strategies and Techniques to Reach Mature Market and People With Disabilities

ORLANDO, FL -- (MARKET WIRE) -- January 29, 2007 -- On January 25-26, the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) hosted its first Leadership Forum on Accessibility at the Caribe Royale Resort & Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. The forum, led by IBM, AOL, Canon, Adobe and others, provided a unique opportunity for business leaders to explore implications, advantages, and specific strategies for integrating accessibility across their enterprises. More than 60 accessibility leaders attended from major corporations within the Insurance, Retail, Banking/Financial Services, Pharmaceutical, Travel and Information Technology industries to discuss the business case for accessibility and its associated technologies, and share best practices.

Strategic decisions surrounding access for people with disabilities, the aging workforce, and worker shortages are a key consideration for large corporations. With 78 million baby boomers and 54 million people with disabilities in the U.S. and 600 million people with disabilities worldwide, corporations also have a need to reach new customers and deliver accessible products and services to this important and growing market. An accessibility strategy is critical to success with these challenges.

According to David Dikter, executive director of ATIA, the genesis of the forum developed from clear market direction and need. "The 155 million people in the United States that could benefit from accessibility solutions are an enormous, and largely untapped, market that companies want and need to serve. Many of our corporate partners are actively working to do just that by integrating accessibility techniques and technologies that will help keep them competitive over the long term. ATIA wanted to leverage their experiences to help other companies create their own accessibility strategies," he said.

The two-day forum was held in concurrence with the larger, annual ATIA conference and represents an expansion of ATIA's focus, which has traditionally centered on solutions for disability services professionals, consumers and end users. Additional corporate, nonprofit, and government sponsors -- including the Job Accommodation Network, the U.S. Office of Disability Employment Policy, and others -- helped support and shape the content of the forum. Four of the top assistive technology manufacturers -- Ai Squared, Compusult, Freedom Scientific, and Humanware -- also participated in the event.

Speakers presented on a wide range of accessibility-related topics. Three of the leaders in accessibility-compliance solutions presented at the Forum -- SSB Bart Group, TecAccess and The Paciello Group. The forum kicked off by outlining the business case for accessibility and providing specific examples of best practices from companies that have found concrete ways to measure their return on investment. Debra Ruh, president of TecAccess, said, "It is essential that organizations like ATIA continue to take the lead in expanding awareness of the accessibility marketplace. In the U.S., people with disabilities represent over $175B in discretionary income, making them a powerful, but often underserved, market force."

IBM, which helped ATIA develop the concept for the forum, provided an overview of its own internal accessibility transformation and lessons learned. "For IBM, accessibility is fundamental to helping us attract and retain the best talent and to developing solutions that help our clients reach the widest possible audience with their products and services. Our approach has been to begin integrating accessibility practices in all areas of our business to create an internal transformation that we can translate into outward-facing solutions that benefit corporations, individuals, and ultimately, we hope, society as a whole," said Frances West, director of the IBM Human Ability and Accessibility Center.

Katherine McCary, vice president of SunTrust Banks, Inc., discussed the advantages of accessible e-commerce and customer service. Tom Wlodkowski, director of accessibility for AOL, discussed Web accessibility from a business and technical perspective, offering insight into how accessibility needs have changed as the Internet has evolved from static Web pages to more graphic, interactive sites. And Adobe Systems provided an overview of their solution to help the local government in Travis County, Texas offer enhanced services online to more citizens and employees, and discussed how they utilized lessons learned to implement new policies and practices in their own organization.

Other special events at the forum included a keynote by John Kemp, an internationally-recognized disability advocate, and a dinner presentation by Dr. Roy Grizzard, assistant secretary for disability employment policy at the U.S. Dept of Labor. At the conclusion of the forum, a number of attendees expressed interest in learning more about accessibility integration through similar events in the future.

"The ATIA Leadership Forum on Accessibility was very valuable to me. It helped me understand how other companies built accessibility into the fabric of their product development. Hearing these success stories and making contacts with representatives from other companies will definitely help in our pursuit of making our products and services available to all customers. I am looking forward to next year's Forum, and I highly encourage all companies to attend," said Doug Seidner, IT Manager at State Farm.

About ATIA

ATIA is a not-for-profit organization, led by a full-time Executive Director with a supporting professional association and conference management staff. There is a member elected Board of Directors with three-year terms of office. Members of ATIA include more than 125 respected industry organizations including for-profit, not-for-profit, government, or private organizations located across the globe. For a full listing of ATIA members and their products, visit ATIA's Web site at

ATIA's mission is to serve as the collective voice of the Assistive Technology industry so that the best products and services are delivered to persons with disabilities.

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