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Senate Committee hears ‘equal access is equal opportunity’

At a hearing held yesterday, the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee learned that one of the key ways to improve access to the Internet and technology for the deaf and blind is the interoperability of search engines and devices.

July 25th marks the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  New legislation proposed by both the House and Senate would require that technological barriers to access information be addressed just as the ADA mandated that physical barriers be dealt with.  Chairman Senator Kerry (D-Mass) noted that the market won’t address these access concerns without the force of legislation and hoped that businesses would cooperate and make good faith efforts to improve access.

Representative Markey (D-Mass) who sponsors the House bill (H.R. 6350 – the “Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act”) said that the “broadband plan was designed to provide a broadband future for all Americans” and that delay in meeting the needs of the disabled was “unacceptable.”

The Senate legislation (S. 3304 – Equal Access to 21st Century Communications Act)  was praised by the panelists representing the visually and hearing impaired communities, the Coalition of Assistive Technology, and U.S. Army Sgt. Brian Pierce, an Iran war veteran who lost his sight and much of his hearing due to a severe brain injury from an IAD blast.  Sgt. Pierce described his frustration finding a cell phone that was accessible and the high level of unemployed in the disabled community. Russell Harvard, a hearing impaired actor, said that “equal access is equal opportunity.” He said that the disabled community should not have to “drag behind” everyone else in access to information and communications technology.

An archived webcast of the hearing is available here.

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