SAP has reluctantly agreed to upgrade its SAP R/3 ERP software system for the State of Arkansas and its Arkansas Administrative Statewide Information System (AASIS). In order to support American with Disabilities SAP will add support for text-to-speech screen reader technology so that blind persons can use the enterprise software application.
The ERP software giant finally agreed to replace SAP R/3 with SAP ERP 6.0 software as part of a settlement reached in August 2008. The National Federation of the Blind of Arkansas had previously brought a legal claim against the state in 2001 charging that the AASIS system was not fully accessible to blind people. The state of Arkansas then in turn filed a third-party complaint against SAP, blaming the ERP software vendor for not achieving required accessibility. Pursuant to the settlement, the software upgrade must be completed by August. 1, 2009.
In addition to the enterprise resource planning software upgrade, SAP has agreed to provide the state with third-party software licenses, customization services, upgrade consulting and maintenance work required to fulfill the settlement agreement. In a statement, SAP indicated that it “is pleased that all parties have reached a settlement.” The company declined any further comment on the arrangement.
In 1998 the U.S. Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology systems accessible to people with disabilities. Section 508 was enacted to eliminate barriers in information technology, to make available new opportunities for people with disabilities, and to encourage development of technologies that will help achieve these goals. For the past several years, the federal government and most state governments contractually require Section 508 compliance with the procurement of all new information systems.
Attorney Joseph Espo of the Baltimore law firm Brown, Golstein & Levy LLP, who represented the plaintiffs, claimed that SAP failed to develop a software application that would link the R/3 application software to industry accepted accessibility tools, making the AASIS system incapable of converting data on computer screens into synthesized speech or another medium accessible to blind or visually impaired users.
Espo also noted that the state of Arkansas violated its own state accessibility policy by procuring software from SAP that was not fully accessible to blind and disabled persons. The Arkansas Act 1227 of 1999 mandates that IT solutions purchased by the state government for use by employees or the general public must be accessible to and usable by blind or visually impaired persons.
Once the enterprise software upgrade project is complete, NFB representatives or the state government will test the upgrades for up to 14 days in order to verify that the information system is accessible and complies with Arkansas law.
Chris Danielsen, a NFB spokesperson, said that IT manufacturers and resellers must consider the importance of user accessibility capabilities for the blind when designing technology solutions for government customers. “There are blind employees in the workplace. The technology systems in place have to be accessible to us,” Danielsen remarked. He went on to point out, “Obviously it’s easier to build a system like that from the outset than it is to go back and revamp and retrofit.”