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President Bush Appoints Phillip D. Jenkins to the U.S. Access Board

Phill JenkinsWhen it comes to accessibility, there’s a side to information technology that one of President Bush’s latest appointees finds a bit paradoxical.

“I view technology as a barrier remover when it’s designed to comply with accessibility principles,” says IBM’s Phill Jenkins, who recently was appointed to serve a four-year term on the U.S. Access Board. “But often it creates barriers, as well.”

“Three-dimensional virtual worlds, for example, were welcomed by many individuals with mobility impairments,” notes the Austin senior software engineer. “But the deaf and hard-of-hearing were excluded when text chats were replaced by voice chats, and the blind and vision-impaired have no practical access to those types of environments.”

Jenkins is part of IBM’s Human Ability and Accessibility Center, and is involved daily in the development of innovations to help make the products and services of IBM and its clients more accessible. The Access Board, he says, likely will be updating accessibility compliance standards for federal regulations that influence the global market, and he’s looking forward to being a part of it.

The board is an independent federal agency that develops accessibility standards for brick-and-mortar facilities, telecommunications, information technology and transit vehicles, conducting research to support those standards and providing technical assistance and training to help implement them.

Claiming a stake

The new appointee says he brings deep technical expertise and broad business skills to the table, along with a desire to hear from as many stakeholder groups as possible. In fact, increasing stakeholder participation in the realm of accessibility is one of his chief areas of concern.

“Stakeholder engagement is too low,” says Jenkins. “Governments can’t solve everything, and mainstream industry isn’t responsible for all the problems. Assistive technology vendors need help to be part of the solution, which has to include support for standards compliance. Inventors of new technologies must provide new enabling accessibility standards,” he continues, “and end users need education, jobs and training in how to use those technologies.”

There has to be balanced accountability, according to Jenkins. Once that happens, “We can all make a difference.”

Nothing paradoxical about that.

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