Importance of IT and accessibility

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Tuesday, September 1, 2020

WASHINGTON – Bill Peterson, RESNA’s 2020 Colin McLaurin Lecturer, has spent most of his career working with government agencies to standardize testing for IT for accessibility. He worked for the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) and the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Accessible Systems and Technology (DHS OAST), and became a RESNA Fellow in 2006. HME News spoke to Peterson about what drives him and his legacy.
HME News: How has your personal experience influenced your career?
Bill Peterson: I broke my neck many years ago and spent almost four months in rehab. I watched how the clinicians struggled mechanically with a lot of things—not clinically as far as their medical knowledge—but mechanically and I thought, “Wow, there really should be somebody else on that team that had more of technical background.” When I went to college, I got a bachelors and a masters in biomedical engineering, because there was no such thing as rehab engineering, with the sole purpose of going into this field.
HME: You were the executive director at DHS OAST. How has that office helped advance efforts to make sure IT is accessible to everyone?
Peterson: We started developing our own testing procedures for Section 508 standards so that everybody could test each other’s results to save money, resources and time. I figured if Customs and Border Protection was to test something, I should be able to trust their result. We made a number of iterations and we also started having classes to help frame what we call “Trusted Testers.” That program became so popular that we trained people in other agencies outside of DHS on how to be a trusted tester. When I left DHS, we trained 900 people within Microsoft so that they could instill those testing protocols into their development process to design accessible information and communication technologies. Today there’s over 2,000 trusted testers who work with the U.S. government, as well as other industries.
HME: If attendees leave your keynote learning one thing what should that be?
Peterson: I’d like people to walk away with a better appreciation for the funding that’s made available to help facilitate better designed technologies, new technologies and the delivery of technologies. That all happens through policy decisions and money, and if that funding dries up we would be in a world of hurt.