The following blog post was written by Paul Nyhan, a staff writer with the Microsoft Accessibility Blog. Paul is a 20-year journalism veteran who has written extensively about disability issues.
Microsoft policy expert Laura Ruby ended her 12-year tenure as a leader of accessibility at the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) this spring, overseeing work that influenced policies and standards around the world.
Twelve years ago, the Accessibility Committee didn’t even exist at ITI. So, Ruby approached the industry group about the importance of accessible technology, becoming the first ITI member to lead what began as a working group and evolved into an influential and official committee. During this time, accessibility emerged as an increasingly important issue for businesses, government agencies, and consumers.
“The committee and ITI have changed how governments and consumers think about accessible technology. We contributed to very important standards and helped shape policies,” Ruby said.
One of the Accessibility Committee’s early efforts was helping government agencies develop clear and usable procurement standards after the federal government revised U.S. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which requires the government to consider accessibility when buying any information technology.
As part of its efforts, the ITI’s Accessibility Committee created the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template® (VPAT®), which helps federal contractors assess and self-declare how a product conforms to Section 508’s accessibility standards.
Under Ruby’s leadership, the committee also encouraged the United States and Europe to work towards harmonizing two separate initiatives that were developing standards of technical requirements for public procurement of information and communication technology (ICT).
Overall, the Accessibility Committee helped people in the public and private sectors address and improve accessibility. As part of that mission, the committee forged partnerships with government agencies and educated staff about accessible technology and best practices.
“Through initiatives such as the VPAT and building partnerships with GSA (General Services Administration), the U.S. Access Board and even the European Commission, you (Ruby) helped ITI convert accessibility into a ‘white hat’ global brand, strengthening industry’s commitment to make cutting-edge technology available to all users, regardless of ability,” ITI president Dean Garfield wrote in a message to Ruby at the end of her time as committee chair.
Twelve years ago, making technology accessible was a relatively small issue in much of the business world, the U.S. government and among consumers.
Today, “ITI is the leading industry voice for information and communications technologies’ (ICT) accessibility policy and standards. We work closely with the U.S. and other governments, consumers, and other industry sectors to promote innovations in ICT accessibility that benefit stakeholders in every aspect of their lives,” the group said on its website.
Ruby was succeeded as Accessibility Committee Chair by PJ Edington of IBM.