Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Congress passes the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act

From The Hill in D.C.:

The House approved a bill late Sept. 28 that would make it easier for the deaf and blind to have access to television, the Internet, smartphones and other communications technologies.

The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act would update the accessibility requirements of the Communications Act to take into account new Web-based technologies. The Senate passed the bill in August behind the leadership of Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.). President Obama is expected to sign it into law.

“Passage of this bill is a landmark achievement in the fight for equal access to technology for all Americans," said Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), the bill's author. “Two decades ago, Americans with disabilities couldn’t get around if buildings weren’t wheelchair-accessible; today it’s about being Web-accessible.”

The bill would implement a number of requirements aimed at making it easier for people with disabilities to use televisions and smartphones, particularly to access the Web. For example, the bill would enable audible descriptions of action on-screen for the visually impaired and require Internet telephone equipment to be compatible with hearing aids.

Industry groups representing the wireless and cable industries hailed passage of the bill and pledged to work with the government to implement its provisions.

"Americans are more reliant than ever on communications devices and networks in their daily lives, but Americans with disabilities can derive particular benefits from these technologies," said Walter McCormick Jr., president of the broadband trade group USTelecom. "Broadband is an essential building block of every modern American community, and we believe this legislation makes many opportunities accessible to all Americans."

The bill will also mandate that remote controls have a button that turns on closed captioning and require captions on new television shows broadcast online. Similar allowances are made to allow the visually impaired to use TV menus and access the Web via smartphones.