Bills Push Access to Technology for Disabled
Legislation to make consumer electronics more accessible to vision and hearing-impaired people is winding its way through Congress.
Some of the key provisions of the legislation would
- provide a larger selection of cell phones with speech software that calls out phone numbers and gives information on how to access the Internet;
- make new television shows available online with closed-captioning;
- require interconnected VoIP service providers to participate in, and contribute to, the Telecommunications Relay Services Fund;
- require manufacturers of equipment used for advanced communications to ensure that the equipment and software it designs and develops is accessible to, and usable by, individuals with disabilities, where such requirement is achievable; and
- require Internet service providers and manufacturers of Internet access equipment to, where achievable, make user interfaces accessible to individuals with disabilities.
The Equal Access to 21st Century Communications Act, authored by Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR), passed the Senate on August 6. A companion bill authored by Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA), the Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, passed the House on July 26.
From Rep. Markey:
“I am extremely pleased that the Senate passed a companion bill to the one I authored in the House to ensure accessibility for Americans with disabilities to the communications and video technologies needed to participate fully in the 21st century.
Whether it’s a Braille reader or a broadband connection, access to technology is not a political issue — it’s a participation issue. Two decades ago, Americans with disabilities couldn’t get around if buildings weren’t wheelchair accessible; today it’s about being Web accessible. The ADA mandated physical ramps into buildings. Today, individuals with disabilities need online ramps to the Internet so they can get to the Web from wherever they happen to be.
Passage of this bill is a landmark achievement in the fight for equal access to technology for all Americans. From the time of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan — through the Americans with Disabilities Act — to closed captioning for television programming and the ability of the deaf to make telephone calls — and now to the comprehensive communications and video accessibility bill that has passed both the House and Senate, we’ve made great strides.
Now that both the House and Senate have acted, I look forward to proceeding and getting legislation to President Obama for his signature.”
This comes as welcome news to consumers with visual and hearing impairments who have had difficulties accessing and benefiting from modern technology. This is legislation worth keeping tabs on.
The Hearing Loss Association of America estimates there are 36 million people in the United States who have a hearing loss, and the National Institutes of Health “conservatively” estimates there are three and a half to five million Americans who are visually impaired, one million of whom are legally blind.
Status of Legislation
- H.R. 3101: Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act
- S. 3304: Equal Access to 21st Century Communications Act
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