Blind World Magazine

After spending $92 million, Florida's computer program still can't help the blind.

November 08, 2005.
Tallahassee Democrat, Florida.

When the state bought a computerized system for tracking purchases, it required just about every agency to use it, including the Division of Blind Services.

There's only one problem - the $92 million MyFloridaMarketPlace system cannot be read by the visually impaired because it is not compliant with Internet standards that allow print-to-voice translations.

That bothers Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, chairman of the Legislative Auditing Committee that on Monday heard a rundown of the many problems auditors found when they investigated the 2-year-old system.

"For the life of me, I don't know why they can't fix it. They've told them what the problem is - they can't see the screen," Wise said after the meeting, "The state requires them to do something, but they can't get access to the screen. It's a Catch-22. So they've been to my office on numerous occasions."

MyFloridaMarketPlace, a state privatization contract with technology giant Accenture, is a kind of Internet bazaar for companies wanting to do business with the state and some local governments. Companies must register there and agree to pay 1 percent of their contract to Accenture; in return, they're notified of new opportunities.

It's not known how many purchasing agents in the state are blind. The director and purchasing agent of the Division of Blind Services are, and the Department of Management Services has brought experts in to help train 14 employees from the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and one from the Department of Transportation.

DMS has fixed the access issues on the other side of the equation, however. After some initial problems, the interface used by the state's 60,000 registered vendors can now be read by the sighted and blind alike.

One of those vendors is Tallahassee resident Robert Miller, who along with his wife, Sila, have made customized computers and software for the visually impaired for 14 years at their company, Easy Talk. Both are blind.

"I have recently spent 10 to 15 hours on that site, and for the most part, it is accessible," Robert Miller said. "It's not at the point that it's what I would call user-friendly, but it is accessible."

Miller uses the software Window-Eyes to turn the words on the state Web site into voice.

The problem with the purchasing software is one of many issues a state task force is grappling with as it works on making Florida compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. The task force is meeting today in Orlando, and Miller will be there to offer advice.

DMS Secretary Tom Lewis, who took plenty of heat from the committee during a two-hour hearing, heads the task force looking for a solution to that problem. He told the committee that he would never have signed the original contract with Accenture that was negotiated before he took over the agency.

Although he has negotiated contract amendments to improve the project, Lewis told the committee he's sure the state made a good decision when it went for a massive centralized purchasing system that replaced the old way of paper purchase orders. The agency estimates it saves the state at least $10 million a year by allowing it to buy in bulk.

"I believe that this e-procurement system is a smart thing for the state to do," Lewis told the committee. "Could it always be better? Absolutely. Will it ever be perfect? No. Is there room for improvement? Obviously."

Contact Capitol Bureau Chief Nancy Cook Lauer at (850) 671-6547 or

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