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Section 508, Part 2
OSE Gets an Education on Access

By Cynthia Delgado

(Second of two-part series)

The Office of Science Education works with the institutes and centers of NIH to translate their cutting-edge medical science and research discoveries into exciting educational programs for the public. Its mission relies on the ability to target successfully the nation's diverse audience, including underserved groups such as women, minorities and people with disabilities. With these goals in mind, the office has gotten a jump-start on incorporating Section 508 accessibility standards into its programs.

OSE director Dr. Bruce Fuchs is devoting many resources to ensure that his office's new web-based programs are accessible. One such program is the NIH Curriculum Supplements, designed to help teachers nationwide facilitate learning and stimulate student interest. Fuchs has enlisted the aid of Science Applications International Corp. to make OSE's new online versions of its CD-ROM and video components compliant by September.

OSE also teams with the Office of Research on Women's Health to create the Women Are Scientists video and poster series, which also must comply with Section 508. Gloria Seelman, project coordinator, proposes to incorporate descriptive narration into the newest video. This service allows people with visual impairments to hear a description of the film's content. Since it cannot be turned off like closed captioning, Seelman says that "a separate video would be produced" and orders would need to specify the preferred format.

Debra Knorr, a health scientist administrator at OSE, has learned that selection of appropriate services, and allowance of time for the unexpected, are key elements for making large-scale public programs accessible. For example, OSE provides film captioning, ASL interpretation and CART for the popular program Science in the Cinema, which involves showing a feature film followed by audience discussion with a noted scientist about the science depicted in the film. Knorr learned from WGBH Caption Center that films previously not captioned can become captioned upon request to a film distributor, a process that can take several months. Similarly, the NIH Mini-Med School requires quality interpreting services, both ASL and CART, for its extensive lecture and discussion format. Knorr says OSE "learned the hard way" about requesting CART services for Natcher. "The Natcher facilities require equipment designed for a particular kind of encoding — which must be specified on the initial request — otherwise the captioner's equipment and software may not work with the building's hardware/architecture," she says. Another OSE lesson: provide ASL interpreters and captioners with a glossary of technical terms in advance. Scientific terms can be preprogrammed into their equipment, improving both the speed and accuracy with which dialogue is captured. Fuchs recalls an embarrassing moment when "a speaker was talking about pharmacology, and each time it came up on the screen as 'farm ecology.'"

Wendy Cheng is currently attending NIH Mini-Med School and gives high marks to Natcher facilities. "I wish all federal agencies had an auditorium like it," she says. While appreciating the assisted listening devices (ALDs), and the two panels for real-time captions, she would prefer a different captioning display. In Natcher the captions are displayed phrase-by-phrase instead of the typical word-by-word, resulting in a noticeable lag time that she finds "a bit annoying." Cheng also suggests relatively inexpensive patch cords for the auditorium. They allow the ALD to be connected to the speech processor of a cochlear implant, thereby improving sound quality.

As OSE continues to improve program access, Fuchs offers advice. "Get started thinking about [accessibility] because there are no standard solutions. You'll have to consider what works best for your programs."

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