Disability Groups Call for Internet Legislation

Disability Groups Call for Internet Legislation

Editor: A coalition of groups representing people with disabilities is calling on Congress to mandate access to Internet-based products and services for people with disabilities. The specific needs vary with the disability. For people with hearing loss, captioning of Internet-based video is high on the list; readily available broadband access is a priority for those who use the Video Relay Service (VRS).

As everything from telephone service to television broadcasting moves to the Internet, the failure to require that these services be accessible when provided on the Internet is a step backwards for those with disabilities. Perhaps the clearest example involves television captioning. Beginning in January, 100% of new programming that is broadcast over cable, satellite, and airwaves must be captioned. But if the same programming is broadcast over the Internet, there is NO captioning requirement.

The unregulated expansion of Internet services is a serious threat to our hard-won accessibility rights, and we need to act to ensure that appropriate requirements are placed on services that use non-traditional media.

Here are portions of a press release on this topic from the National Association of the Deaf (NAD).

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Silver Spring, MD – The National Association of the Deaf (NAD), joined by other disability organizations listed at the end of this press release, called upon Congress to enact legislation mandating disability access to Internet-based products and services by the end of this Congress. The nation needs broadband, everywhere, now, and at affordable rates – this is true for no one more than people with disabilities.

Following up on testimony presented at last week’s hearing before the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, given by NAD governmental affairs consultant Frank Bowe and delivered on behalf of 16 national, state and local organizations of, by, and for people with disabilities, Kelby Brick, NAD Director of Law and Advocacy, said:

“People with disabilities use communications technologies every day that were not even in existence at the time our nation’s communications laws were last amended. The 1996 Telecommunications Act did not contemplate instant messaging, email, video relay, peer- to-peer video or such handheld devices as the Firefly and the Tictalk.

“Although the 1996 Act contained disability provisions for access to telecommunications products and services, it was mainly limited to those used with the public switched telephone network, not the Internet. As a result, people with disabilities will only gain equal access to today’s communications infrastructure and services if Congress acts to extend these protections to Internet-enabled products and services.”

Individuals are urged to contact their representatives in Congress by taking action at: http://www.nad.org/BroadbandBillAction

Dr. Bowe testified on behalf of the Alliance for Public Technology, the American Association of People with Disabilities, the American Council of the Blind, the American Foundation for the Blind, the Association of Late-Deafened Adults, the California Coalition of Agencies Serving the Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Inc., Communication Services for the Deaf, the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Consumer Advocacy Network, the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Service Center Inc., Inclusive Technologies, the National Association of the Deaf, the Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons, Self Help for Hard of Hearing People, TDI/Telecommunications for the Deaf Inc., WGBH National Center for Accessible Media, and the World Institute on Disability.

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Dr. Bowe further noted that communications manufacturers and service providers have had ten years to become familiar with the accessibility needs of Americans with disabilities. The House staff discussion draft would extend the same accessibility requirements to new Internet-enabled products and services. Because today’s communications products and services make extensive use of software, and are rapidly upgraded, he said, the disability community believes that making these accessible to and useable by people with disabilities will be neither costly nor technologically demanding if done during the design stage.

Dr. Bowe concluded his testimony by stating: “Critically important disability access provisions will come about only if Congress enacts an updated framework for telecommunications.”

Today, our organizations reiterate his words and call for immediate Congressional action to guarantee access to all of the exciting and innovative Internet-enabled products and services that are entering the marketplace, as well as many sure to follow in the coming years.

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