Proposed Legislation Promotes Accessibility
Editor: We’ve been concerned for years that emerging IP technology is reversing many of the accessibility victories that people with hearing loss have won in the last 20 years. Now it appears that our advocacy has paid off, as proposed Federal legislation seeks to ensure that television and telecommunication services provided over IP networks provide access to folks with disabilities. Here’s the COAT press release with more information.
The Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology hails the recently issued draft legislative measure, the “Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act” as a dramatic and comprehensive step forward for consumers with disabilities. Released yesterday, the draft would amend the Communications Act – the statute that impacts the telephone and video programming industries – to add new consumer protections that will ensure people with disabilities do not get left out or left behind as telephones and television programming increasingly rely on digital and Internet Protocol (IP) technologies. The proposals will allow greater numbers of people with disabilities to become independent and productive members of society, as well as to enjoy all the new electronic gadgets and devices that everyone else takes for granted.
“It’s about time that people with disabilities received assurances that they will be fully included as our nation’s communication technologies evolve,” said Karen Peltz Strauss of Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD). “Emerging digital and Internet-based technologies can provide people with disabilities with all kinds of wonderful opportunities for better employment and education, as well as improved citizenry, but only if these are designed to be accessible and affordable,” she added.
Although laws in the 1980s and 1990s guaranteed telephone and television access, such as relay services, hearing aid compatible telephones, and captioning on TV, “we need to be sure these laws apply to services provided over the Internet, or to the newer, smaller devices available today that display television programs,” says Rosaline Crawford of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). “While closed captions are required on all new television shows, very few that are also webcast are also shown with captioning. This leaves behind millions of people who rely on captioning.” The draft law proposes to include this programming under the captioning mandates, and would cover new types of electronic equipment now displaying video programming.
“In addition, right now we can’t even find the way to turn on captions on the new, snazzy digital television sets that everyone wants to buy,” adds Crawford. “A new requirement for television manufacturers to put a captioning button on the remote control and captioning settings at the top level of on-screen menus will enable America’s growing population with hearing loss to enjoy television along with their families and friends,” she adds.
Another provision would let deaf people – who generally use the Internet to communicate in video – receive the Lifeline and Linkup discount for their broadband service. “Video relay service users who are low income should have the same phone company subsidies as other low income people,” says Jenifer Simpson, of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). “These individuals aren’t using traditional wireline phone services anymore,” she says; “instead, they are using the only phone service – video relay – that works for them in their native language. Why should they be penalized for being sign language users?”
A related provision would authorize Universal Service funds for the distribution of specialized communications equipment needed by the 100,000 people in America who are deaf blind. Simpson adds, “With this new program, America’s deaf-blind population will have the same universal phone service everyone else takes for granted!”
Another requirement contained in the draft would restore a requirement for television programs to include video description and ensure that TV devices transmit and deliver video description. Video description, used by people who are blind, is the provision of verbal descriptions of on-screen visual elements that are provided during natural pauses in dialogue. “With video description, people with vision disabilities can hear on-screen emergency warnings and also more fully participate in society through access to television programs like everyone else,” says Paul Schroeder at the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB).
AFB and other COAT organizations are also pleased to see proposals that will require on-screen text menus and TV controls to be accessible through audio outputs. Schroeder adds, “There’s so much television programming we are missing because the controls are inaccessible or too difficult to use.”
The Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology, or COAT, is a new coalition of organizations, launched in March 2007, to advocate for legislative and regulatory safeguards that will ensure full access by people with disabilities to evolving high speed broadband, wireless and other Internet protocol (IP) technologies. At present, COAT consists of over 160 national, regional, and community-based affiliates dedicated to making sure that as the nation migrates from legacy public switched-based telecommunications to more versatile and innovative IP-based and other communication technologies, people with disabilities will benefit like everyone else. More information about the disability coalition is available at its website: http://www.coataccess.org.