Electronics Industry Bad Attitude Affirms Need for Accessibility Legislation

Electronics Industry Bad Attitude Affirms Need for Accessibility Legislation

June 2010

Editor: If only the arrogant and overbearing disability community would stop oppressing the multinational corporations that comprise the consumer electronics industry, we’d have all the accessibility we could ask for. That’s the crux of the argument being made against H.R. 3101 by some industry apologists. This press release from the folks at COAT describes a House Subcommittee hearing on this important bill. See http://www.coataccess.org/node/9577 for their release, which includes links to additional information.

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On June 10, 2010, at the House Subcommittee hearing on H.R. 3101, partisan differences between Democratic and Republican representatives provided a lively & emotional atmosphere for the almost 200 attendees at the hearing. At the root of these tensions was the publishing of an op ed by Gary Shapiro of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) that attempted to slam H.R. 3101 with some tired old accusations that it “would not result in more products being accessible or more innovative designs. Rather, it would result in overly burdensome compliance costs, less variety of products and would hinder United States competitiveness in the global market.”

Rep. Markey told Shapiro that what the op ed said was “untrue.” However, nothing would stop Shapiro who piled it on, stating that the undue burden standard would be a “choke collar” on his members after also stating that “mandating universal design is an innovation killer” among several other similar undocumented, unproven and untrue assertions. For Markey’s efforts to counter Shapiro’s diatribe, Ranking Member Cliff Stearns (FL) accused Markey of emotionalism and then proceeded to tell the hearing attendees what he thought Shapiro meant, in essence, defending Shapiro’s assertions and speaking for him!

Markey also asked COAT witness Sgt. Major Acosta what his opinion was of CEA’s solution for accessibility — which is to have a federal Advisory Council on accessibility. Acosta’s response was that “it would result in nothing.” For asking one witness what was his opinion of another’s statement, Markey was accused of “slime-ing” the panel by Rep. Terry (NE) who thought it inappropriate to ask witnesses questions like this.

Despite the verbal fireworks, COAT witnesses earlier had done a remarkable job raising the disability point of view. Lise Hamlin (HLAA) said that we want an equal opportunity to benefit from advanced communications technologies. She noted how HR 3101 would establish a Real Time Text standard, important in emergency communications, affirmed that the bill would benefit people who are blind, deaf people, and people who are deaf-blind and others like herself, with a hearing aid and a cochlear implant. She also stated “accessibility should not be subject to a popularity contest” and averred that accessibility spurs innovation, among other points.

COAT witness Sgt Major Jesse Acosta (Ret. Army), an ACB member, noted that he can’t hear the critical information found in TV emergency news scrolls, and reported his cell phone Musique has a flat key pad that he can’t use and has to ask others to dial for him. He also thanked Apple for their efforts to bring products to market with so much accessibility built-in and out-of-the-box for people like him who are blind but reminded that “80% of blind people can’t afford the expensive stuff.” He also stated he “wants HR 3101 passed because industry forgets about blind people and those with hearing disabilities.”

Witness Walter McCormick (USTA) said his organization prefers H.R. 3101 over Senate bill S. 3304 due to better technological parity. He also emphasized the amount of time and work done by the organizations in his trade association “with the disabled community” to reach consensus legislative language.

James Assey, Executive VP of NCTA, among other points made, seemed to say they support reinstatement of video description but they have concerns about cost, utility or usage, and how to operationalize it. He also noted how his trade association’s members have benefitted from some (recent) discussions with disability representatives.

Among several points made, witness Bobby Franklin (CTIA) said they don’t want to give their records to the FCC when complaints would be filed under the new compliance provisions in H.R. 3101. They also want limits on new accessibility requirements and “to have no responsibility for 3rd party applications.”

The hearing opened with a positive & encouraging statement from full House Energy & Commerce (E&C) Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (CA)who said “It’s time to bring Americans with disabilities across the digital divide” and stated he wants to bring the bill to the floor at this momentous time, the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Subcommitte Chairman Rick Boucher (VA) gavelled the hearing, and closed it and said — despite the obvious intransigence of some industry organizatioins — that he was still looking for a consensus bill.

Other congressional representatives at the hearing, some asking questions and some not were: Rep. Jay Inslee (WA); Rep. Marsha Blackburn (TN); Rep. Parker Griffith (AL); Rep. Cathy Castor (FL); Rep. Bob Latta (OH); and Rep. Doris Matsui (CA) who issued a press release the day of the hearing saying she was now co-sponsoring H.R. 3101. Advocates noted also that Rep. Anna Eshoo (CA), a member of the full E&C Committee, had also signed on as a sponsor by the hearing date.

COAT noted many company representatives at the hearing, for example, Apple, AT&T, and Panasonic. Many COAT affiliate representatives attended such as from AAPD (including four AAPD summer interns!) and NAD. Other dsability organizational representatives also attended such as from UCPA, NFP, Blinded Veterans’ and VetsFirst.Several FCC officials attended including from the CGB and Wireless bureaus and FCC’s disability office, DRO.

Witnesses written statements will be attached below later as they are sent to us. Please feel free to add to this story in the comment section below if you attended the hearing and heard or saw anything important missed in this report.