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Legislation Brings Hope for People with Disabilities Left Out of Communications Technologies

COAT Applauds Representatives Markey and Wilson for introducing "The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2008"

WASHINGTON, DC, June 20, 2008—The Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT) is delighted that Representatives Edward Markey (D-MA) and Heather Wilson (R-NM) have introduced "The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2008" (H.R. 6320). The bill would amend the Communications Act to ensure that new Internet-enabled telephone and television services are accessible to and usable by people with disabilities and closes existing gaps in telecommunications laws.

The bill is co-sponsored by Representatives Lois Capps (D-CA), Hilda Solis (D-CA) and Barney Frank (D-MA).

Jenifer Simpson, of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), said, "Once again, as he did in the 1980s and 1990s, Representative Markey is safeguarding an accessible communications future for people with disabilities. We are delighted also that Representative Wilson is co-sponsoring a measure that focuses on accessibility in our digital communications world. We applaud these Congresspersons for their extraordinary leadership and we look now to the Senate to address the issue of accessible communications technologies."

Added Rosaline Crawford, of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), "Digital and Internet technologies are very exciting. They make it possible for TVs and other video devices—of virtually any size—to receive, transmit, and display TV programs and videoclips with captions. Captions make TV programs and videoclips accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. As more and more TV programs embrace the Internet, people who are deaf or hard of hearing must not be left behind. Captioning TV programs and videoclips shown on the Internet is needed for the same reasons it is needed when shown on TV."

Mark Richert, of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), stated: "With this measure, people with vision loss will finally have access to everything from text messaging their friends, watching their favorite TV shows, and receiving critical emergency alerts. Video description and accessible user interfaces on television devices are essential in providing information about events on screen for people who are blind or visually impaired." Video description is verbal depiction of key visual elements inserted into natural pauses in television dialogue and is activated by the viewer.

Karen Peltz Strauss, of Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD), said, "H.R. 6320 is a giant step forward toward bringing the Communication Act's requirements for accessible telephone and television services into this century. The various provisions of this legislation—which focus on new and innovative ways to communicate and receive information—build on existing federal policies to ensure that people with disabilities can take full advantage of the Internet advancements enjoyed by everyone else."

The bill includes the following specific measures:

Communications Access

  • Requires access to phone-type equipment and services used over the Internet.
  • Add improved accountability and enforcement measures for accessibility, including a clearinghouse and reporting obligations by providers and manufacturers.
  • Requires telephone products used with the Internet to be hearing aid compatible.
  • Allows use of Lifeline and Link-up universal service funds (USF) for broadband services.
  • Allocates up to $10 million/year from USF for equipment used by people who are deaf-blind.
  • Clarifies the scope of relay services to include calls between and among people with disabilities and require Internet-based service providers to contribute to the Interstate Relay Fund.

Video Programming Access

  • Requires decoder circuitry in all video programming devices.
  • Extends the closed captioning obligations to television-type video programming distributed over the Internet: covers programming that would otherwise be covered by the FCC's captioning rules, not user-generated content.
  • Requires easy access to closed captions via remote control, on-screen menus.
  • Requires easy access by blind people to television controls and program selection menus.
  • Restores video description rules and requires access to televised emergency programming for people who are blind or have low vision.

The Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology, or COAT, which was launched in March 2007, is a coalition of over 200 national and local organizations that advocates for full access by people with disabilities to evolving high speed broadband, wireless and Internet protocol (IP) technologies.


Contacts: Jenifer Simpson (AAPD) 202-457-0046; Karen Peltz Strauss (CSD) 202-363-1263; Rosaline Crawford (NAD) 301-587-1789; Adrianna Montague-Gray (AFB) 212-502-7675.

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