Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Field of Dreams

During my time as a Development Officer at the Lighthouse, I began to hear a phrase that goes like this, “Technology levels the playing field for people who are visually impaired.” It was a pretty good sound bite, impressive to those unknowing. Unfortunately, it simply was not true. The field was totally out of whack.

Eight years later, I can say that the field is getting a little more level every day and tomorrow when the US Congress votes on, and passes, The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2009 (a.k.a. HR 3101), I will feel the earth move.

It seems a bit dreamy, but here is what H.R. 3101 proposes to do:

1. Restore and expand 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;

2. Mandate mobile phone companies to make web browsers, text messaging, and e-mail on smart phones fully accessible;

3. Require television distributors to ensure captioning of programs when also shown on the Internet;*Allow users of different forms of telecommunications relay services to connect with each other;

4. Require smart phones to be hearing aid compatible;

5. Ensure people with vision loss have access to emergency broadcast information;

6. Provide $10 million in funding each year for assistive technology for deaf-blind individuals;

7. Improve enforcement of disability accessibility communications complaints.

COAT (the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology), which Lighthouse International is a member, took the lead on this important legislative effort. I love a good coalition.

I am told, by a reliable source, that they have enough votes to pass this bill, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed anyway.