On November 6 the FCC held a Field Hearing on Broadband Access for People with Disabilities at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. The hearing is one of many that will discuss ways to bring access to broadband to the nation’s 54 Americans with disabilities. The meeting included panelists from A.G. Bell, the American Foundation for the Blind, and the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology, a group that’s making a big push for a federal law that would require, among other innovations, closed-captions (for the deaf) and video descriptions (for the blind) for Internet TV and movies. Academy-Award winning actress Marlee Matlin also served as a panelist on behalf of the National Association of the Deaf.
Federal Communications Commission Michael J. Copps spoke at the start of the meeting, and made it clear that the agency is working to make broadband access a reality for the disabled. Here are excerpts of his comments:
Every American has to have access to [broadband] technology and all the many services its spins out. Because this is technology that intersects with just about every great challenge confronting our nation—whether it’s jobs, education, energy, climate change and the environment, international competitiveness, health care, equal opportunity or overcoming disabilities. There’s no solution for any of these challenges that does not have a broadband component to it—that’s how important this stuff is.
Today’s hearing is about creating opportunities for our brothers and sisters living with disabilities. And it’s not just something nice for us to do—it’s their right—I think it’s pretty much a civil right—to have this kind of access, because access denied is opportunity denied. I just don’t believe that in this Twenty-first century—and we’ve only begun to see the communications wonders this century will produce—anyone can be a fully productive citizen, able to open the doors of economic and social opportunity to themselves and their families, without high-speed, value-laden, affordable broadband.
Just as telecommunications providers shouldn’t be designing equipment for people with disabilities without including people with disabilities in their planning and development, neither should the FCC be writing a broadband plan for people with disabilities without including people with disabilities from start to finish. Remember that old saying: “decisions without you are usually decisions against you.” I’ve been around this town a long time, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen how true it is.
You know, next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act. We still have a lot of work ahead to make its aspirations a reality. But the hard work and spirit that gave us that act can make a difference once again if we do our work right in the weeks and months just ahead.