Blind and deaf people will find it easier to use smartphones, the Internet and other technology – important for their schooling, personal life and workplace – under a bill just signed into law by President Obama.
In a ceremony at the White House, the President was joined Friday by disability-rights advocates and tech industry representatives, as he signed the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act.
The legislation requires smartphones, 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 smartphones, 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, and during the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the law is expected to create more opportunities in the workplace, the classroom and everyday life.
“The bill … will better ensure full participation in our democracy and our economy for Americans with disabilities,” Obama said. “The … Act will make it easier for people who are deaf, blind or live with a visual impairment to do what many of us take for granted -- from navigating a TV or DVD menu to sending an e-mail on a smartphone. It sets new standards so that Americans with disabilities can take advantage of the technology our economy depends on. And that’s especially important in today’s economy, when every worker needs the necessary skills to compete for the jobs of the future.”
"It will help Americans with disabilities work more productively, respond to emergencies more effectively, and participate even more in society and culture," added Mark Richert, director of Public Policy at AFB and a principal negotiator with the communications and TV industries.
- 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.
“Earlier this year, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act right here in the White House,” Obama said. “And it was a moment for every American to reflect not just on one of the most comprehensive civil rights bills in our history, but what that bill meant to so many people. It was a victory won by countless Americans who refused to accept the world as it is, and against great odds, waged quiet struggles and grassroots crusades until finally change was won.”
Among those attending the White House ceremony was singer Stevie Wonder, who is blind.
Ed Silverstein is a contributing editor for TMCnet's InfoTech Spotlight. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Tammy Wolf