November 22, 2005.
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.
In his November 9, 2005 testimony, and in response to questions posed by Subcommittee Chair Fred Upton (Republican - MI), Dr. Bowe said that the disability community wants legislation sooner rather than later: "The Nation urgently needs a coherent broadband policy. Critical to these improvements are the disability consumer protections contained in the staff draft."
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.
The disability organizations below have joined in the request to the U.S. Congress:
Alliance for Public Technology
American Association of People with Disabilities
American Foundation for the Blind
Association of Late-Deafened Adults
California Coalition of Agencies Serving the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Communication Services for the Deaf
National Association of the Deaf
National Council on Independent Living
Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons
Self Help for Hard of Hearing People
WGBH National Center for Accessible Media
World Institute on Disability
The NAD website (http://www.nad.org) has a wealth of advocacy information and resources.
End of article.
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