Sunday, May 11, 2008

AAPD advocates for 21st century communication, video accessibility for people with disabilities

Deaf actor Russell Harvard from
"There Will Be Blood" testified
before the U.S. House Subcommittee
on Telecommunications and the Internet.

A press release from American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) on May 8:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), the largest cross-disability membership organization in the U.S., was pleased with the outcomes of the May 1 hearing held on Capitol Hill by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet chaired by Representative Edward Markey (MA), and the strong testimony provided by the hearing’s celebrity and hero witnesses. The hearing focused on draft legislation, “Enhancing Access to Broadband Technology and Services for Persons with Disabilities.”

AAPD now urges the U.S. Senate to consider similar legislative steps to ensure equal access to technology for people with disabilities.

"Once again, Representative Ed Markey is helping to safeguard an accessible future for people with disabilities,” said Andrew Imparato, AAPD President and CEO. “We are hopeful that last week’s hearing has laid a solid foundation for a bipartisan, bicameral strategy that will produce important legislation in the coming months.”

Hearing witness Jamaal Anderson, defensive end and 2007 first round draft pick of the NFL Atlanta Falcons whose father is a leading deaf educator and former board member of Gallaudet University, told the Committee during his testimony: “Last year at draft time, a number of websites, including sites posted by NFL teams, NBA teams and news entities (CNN and MSNBC), showed video clips of me. But my dad couldn’t watch them on his own; he needed my mom to interpret because the sites were captioned. That is why I am here today: to ask you to pass legislation that will ensure that my father and other Americans with hearing loss have access to the Internet and digital communications tools to maintain their independence, productivity, and privacy.”

Another witness, Russell Harvard, a deaf Hollywood actor appearing in the Academy Award -winning movie "There Will Be Blood," provided his testimony through sign language, asking the Committee to require accessible user interfaces and controls on TV sets and players. “It should be as easy for people who are deaf and hard of hearing to find and control captions as it is for hearing people to control the volume and other audio features on a TV. Whenever access is denied to me, I feel – and am – left behind.”

Sergeant Major Jesse Acosta, a Purple Heart army veteran whose vision was severely injured by mortar attack in Iraq, offered his testimony in support of the thousands of veterans with vision disabilities, including those returning from Iraq with eye injuries. He told the Committee about the need for audio outputs, saying, “I own a late model Chrysler Le Baron that comes with a chip that allows you to be informed through voice output when various systems for the vehicle are in need of maintenance. If your oil is low, it will tell you so; the same applies for all other fluids. It talks to you. Why is it that a vehicle that was made almost 30 years ago has the technology that we are seeking at the present time for products like phones, DVR’s and cable boxes? This is beyond me.”

These witnesses’ statements support the legislative and regulatory agenda of the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT), numbering nearly 200 national, regional and local members, including AAPD as a founding member. This coalition advocates for new technologies to be made accessible to people with disabilities.

But other witnesses had objections to the legislative proposal. Dane Snowden, representing the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA), stated that it “was well intentioned but would lead to potentially inflexible regulations.” Ken Nakata of Disability Initiatives and Government Compliance BayFirst Solutions, though agreeing on the need for legislation, suggested that there should “be procedural safeguards.” Chairman Markey called industry objections "eerily similar" to earlier opposition to enact the original closed captioning law in 1990.
Larry Goldberg, Director of the Media Access project at WGBH-TV in Boston, Mass., presented information on technological feasibility. He emphasized the need for a date to be set to ensure that there is industry agreement on common standards for accessibility.

The archived video of the hearing, including the witnesses’ statements, can be found on the House Subcommittee's Web site.

To review the staff draft of the legislation.