SAP is to upgrade an SAP R/3-based system in the US state of Arkansas after a dispute over the systems’ functionality that dates back to 2001.
Unlike other disputes involving SAP from that period, the Arkensas [problems stemmed from claims that SAP’s product did not support the needs of disabled workers.
Under the deal reached this month, SAP will give the Arkansas Administrative Statewide Information System (AASIS) support for text-to-speech screen access technology to allow blind persons to use all features of the enterprise software.
The software vendor agreed to the upgrade, and to replace R/3 with SAP ERP 6.0 software, 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 it for the accessibility problems.
The work must be completed by 1 August 2009, according to the settlement.
In addition to the upgrades, SAP agreed to provide the state any third party software licenses, customization, upgrade consulting and maintenance 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 settlement. 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, 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 checkbox rows and columns to complete job-related tasks, noted attorney Joseph Espo of 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 means accessible to blind or visually impaired users.
In addition, Espo contended that Arkansas violated its own Accessibility state 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 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 NFB organization, 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."
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