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for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

President Obama Signs Historic Technology Access Bill

New Law Makes Technology More Usable for Americans with Vision Loss and other Disabilities

Washington, DC (Friday, October 8, 2010)—Today, joined by disability-rights advocates and tech industry representatives, President Obama signed into law the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. The legislation requires smart phones, television programs and other modern communications technologies to be accessible to people with vision or hearing loss.

"This law is life-changing for the millions of us with disabilities who are too often unable to take advantage of new technologies," said Paul Schroeder, Vice President of Programs & Policy at the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB). "It opens the door to the digital age, and gives Americans with visual or hearing impairments equal access to smart phones, emergency broadcast information, the menus and controls on televisions and cable TV guides, and much more."

Signed into law during National Disability Employment Awareness Month, this legislation is expected to create more opportunities in the work place, the classroom, and everyday life. "It will help Americans with disabilities work more productively, respond to emergencies more effectively, and participate even more in society and culture," said Mark Richert, Director of Public Policy at AFB and a principal negotiator with the communications and TV industries.

"This law builds on the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act and ensures people with disabilities can fully participate in the 21st century," said Carl R. Augusto, AFB's President & CEO. "We applaud the many advocates and lawmakers who fought tirelessly to make this law a reality."

The legislation gives individuals with vision or hearing loss improved access to television programming, smart phones, the Internet, menus on DVD players, program guides on cable TV, and more. Specifically, it:

  • Mandates mobile phone companies to make web browsers, text messaging, and e-mail on smart phones fully accessible.
  • Restores and expands requirements for video description of television programs, in addition to requiring cable companies to make their program guides and selection menus accessible to people with vision loss.
  • Ensures people with vision loss have access to emergency broadcast information.
  • Provides $10 million in funding each year for assistive technology for deaf-blind individual.
  • Ensures that Internet-enabled mobile phones are hearing aid compatible.

The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act passed Congress with bipartisan support. A number of members played a key role in moving the legislation forward. In the U.S. Senate, the bill was championed by Senator Pryor (D-AR), with the support of Senator Kerry (D-MA), Senator Rockefeller (D-WV), Senator Hutchison (R-TX), and Senator Ensign (R-NV). In the U.S. House, it was championed by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), with the support of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA), Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), and Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL).

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The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) is a national nonprofit that expands possibilities for people with vision loss. AFB's priorities include broadening access to technology; elevating the quality of information and tools for the professionals who serve people with vision loss; and promoting independent and healthy living for people with vision loss by providing them and their families with relevant and timely resources. AFB is also proud to house the Helen Keller Archives and honor the more than forty years that Helen Keller worked tirelessly with AFB. For more information visit us online at www.afb.org.

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