SAP agrees to fix Arkansas ERP system

Settles lawsuit charging that system is not accessible to blind state employees

SAP AG has agreed to upgrade the SAP R/3-based Arkansas Administrative Statewide Information System (AASIS) to add support for text-to-speech screen access technology so blind persons can use all features of the enterprise software.

The German software vendor agreed to the upgrade and it agreed to replace R/3 with SAP ERP 6.0 software as part of a deal reached earlier this month to settle a complaint filed against it by the state. The National Federation of the Blind of Arkansas had sued the state in 2001 claiming the AASIS system was not fully accessible to blind persons. The state, in turn, filed a third-party claim against SAP, blaming the vendor for the accessibility problems.

The work must be completed by Aug. 1, 2009, according to the settlement reached on Aug. 1.

In addition to the upgrades, SAP agreed to provide the state with any third-party software licenses, customization services, upgrade consulting and maintenance work required to fulfill the settlement agreement.

In a statement, SAP said that it "is pleased that all parties have reached a settlement." The company declined further comment on the deal. When contacted by Computerworld, Arkansas state officials declined to discuss the settlement.

The agreement resolves the lawsuit filed against the state by the NFB of Arkansas on behalf of blind state employees Donna Walker and Larry Wayland, who contended that they could not use some key AASIS functions. For example, the employees said that they could not log onto the system to keep track of vacation time and accrued pay, or use check-box rows and columns to complete job-related tasks, noted attorney Joseph Espo of the Baltimore law firm Brown, Golstein & Levy LLP, who represented the plaintiffs.

Espo said that SAP failed to write code that would link the underlying R/3 software to the accessibility tools, making AASIS incapable of converting data on computer screens into synthesized speech or another medium accessible to blind or visually impaired users.

In addition, Espo contended that Arkansas violated its own state accessibility policy by purchasing software from SAP that is not fully accessible to blind persons. Arkansas Act 1227 of 1999 mandates that IT equipment purchased by state government for use by employees or the general public must be accessible to and usable by blind or visually impaired individuals.

"We sued the state for violating its own law for purchasing IT systems," said Espo. "I don't think the state ever contended we were factually incorrect about it being inaccessible."

Once the upgrade project concludes, representatives of the NFB or the state government will test the upgrades for up to 14 days to ensure that the system is accessible and complies with Arkansas law.

Chris Danielsen, a spokesman for the national office of the NFB, said that IT vendors must consider the importance of user accessibility features for the blind when designing products for corporate and government customers. "There are blind employees in the workplace, and there need to be more. The [technology] systems in place have to be accessible to us," he remarked. "Obviously it's easier to build a system like that from the outset than it is to go back and revamp and retrofit."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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