At NJ-GMIS, Bustling Show Floor, Many Educational Opportunities

Photo: At the NJ GIMS conference in April, many NJ companies were displaying their wares. Photo Credit: Esther Surden

At the NJ GIMS conference in April, many NJ companies were displaying their wares. | Esther Surden stopped by the 2013 New Jersey Government Management Information Services (NJ-GMIS) Technology Education Conference in Somerset on April 11, 2013, where we found a bustling conference floor and many informative sessions from which to choose.

Last week we covered the keynote at that conference, given by Antonio Pollan of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

On the show floor we found many N.J. companies and firms operating in N.J. that serve the government marketplace primarily.

One that caught our eye was Hoboken startup PropertyPilot, which provides a complete geographic information system (GIS) platform aimed at mayors and town administrators. Its cloud-based, all-in-one constituent relationship manager contains an astounding amount of information that can be leveraged by municipalities.

Another firm, Somerset-based Spatial Data Logic, offers a single product for streamlining and automating municipal departments, business processes and functions. The company said it had developed an end-to-end software solution that addresses the unique, complex regulations governing Garden State municipalities.

Johnston Communications (North Arlington), which has been around since 1977, creates converged networks that deliver voice, data, security, instant messaging and Web conferencing for municipalities.

Technology solutions provider Promedia Technology Services (Little Falls) works in the education sector, specifically grades K-12 in New Jersey school districts. The company says it helps develop technology plans and deliver solutions to the education community.

Sunrise Systems (Metuchen) offers public records information management systems and others that search electronic records, land records, property assessment appeals and the like.

Educational sessions presented at the conference covered topics such as managing risk in IT service contracts, supporting mobile apps for education, IT’s role in supporting social media activities and, of course, the Bring Your Own Device movement. stopped by the session “Government Website Accessibility: Meeting the Mandate,” at which Ellen Lazer of Livingston Township talked about making government websites accessible to citizens of all abilities. Livingston’s site was recently ranked among the top 25 municipal websites in New Jersey by the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

There are two main federal laws that govern municipal websites, Lazer said: the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 508 of the 1978 Rehabilitation Act.

While the ADA doesn’t mention websites (because when it was written, they did not yet exist), the judiciary has found that private businesses have to provide equal access to their sites for people with disabilities. Section 508 was amended to require the federal government to make its websites accessible to the disabled.

In the near future, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights division is expected to publish regulations that affect all municipal websites, Lazer said. Sites might be required to include spoken descriptions of text or photos for the blind and captions and transcriptions of multimedia for the deaf, for example. Additionally, websites may have to be navigable by people with motor disabilities.

The National Association of Government Webmasters has weighed in on implementation standards. While the organization supports making websites accessible, it is concerned that many municipalities won’t be able to comply because of technical staff overload and budgetary considerations.

The association is also worried about unintended consequences, such as municipalities avoiding the use of video just when citizens are using this medium more than ever. Citizens could find, for example, that streamed meetings are no longer available. The organization supports education about accessibility and wants the federal government to build up its resource library of Web products that municipalities can use.

Lazer noted that accessibility is an issue all websites will have to face. In the next 20 years, the number of people needing accommodations is expected to double, and many will be older individuals.

It isn’t that hard to make your pages mostly accessible, Lazer told the attendees. She presented some easy-to-implement ideas for those who want to do that immediately.

For example, images should be described to help blind users who use text-to-speech or Braille hardware and software. “That’s easy to do,” Lazer said. Text and images can be made enlargeable. When links are underlined, colorblind users are able to notice them more easily, she pointed out.

Clickable links should also be large, so users who have trouble controlling a mouse can more easily click them. Pages should be coded, so those who can’t use a mouse can use the keyboard instead. Websites should have a minimum of flashing, or flashing should be optional, to avoid creating problems for users prone to seizures. Finally, color choices should take into account those with visual impairments.

Lazer added that a municipal website should have its accessibility policy clearly visible to all on the site.

Lazer’s complete presentation and other presentations from the conference can be found here.

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