New Law Improves Communication Access for Disabled

By Aliah D. Wright Oct 19, 2010

Disability and communication advocates are calling the signing of a bill that extends communication and video technologies to people who are deaf, blind or visually impaired the most significant disability law in 20 years.

On Oct. 8, 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, according to a White House news release.

The act, Obama said, “will make it easier for people who are deaf, blind or live with a visual impairment to do what many of us take for granted—from navigating a TV or DVD menu to sending an e-mail on a smart phone. It sets new standards so that Americans with disabilities can take advantage of the technology our economy depends on. And that’s especially important in today’s economy, when every worker needs the necessary skills to compete for the jobs of the future.”

Officials say the new law makes it easier for people who are blind, deaf or have low vision to access the Internet, smart phones, television programming, and other video and communication technologies. And it ensures that emergency information is accessible to individuals who are blind or have low vision.

The President signed the law in the East Room of the White House surrounded by legislators, disability advocates, members of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and blind entertainer Stevie Wonder.

Funds of $10 million annually will be allocated from the Interstate Relay Service Fund for equipment used by individuals who are deaf and blind.

Members of the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology say each provision of the new law has its own deadlines. The FCC will oversee the bill’s enactment.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski called the legislation the “most significant disability law in two decades.”

CTIA-The Wireless Association, an international nonprofit membership organization, issued a statement saying it, too, was pleased with the bill’s passage.

In a separate statement, Kathryn Brown, senior vice president of public policy and corporate responsibility for Verizon, said the law “will ensure that millions of Americans with disabilities have greater access to new broadband services and technologies.”

“This law builds on the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act and ensures people with disabilities can fully participate in the 21st century,” Carl R. Augusto, president and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind said in a statement.

“We applaud the many advocates and lawmakers who fought tirelessly to make this law a reality,” he added.

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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