Lawmaker is Author of Bill to Make Technology More Accessible to All
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Representative Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), author of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (H.R. 3101), today issued the following prepared remarks during debate on the bill on the House floor. A vote on the bill is expected later in the day.
“I’d like to think that Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan are looking down on us here this afternoon and smiling. I’m so proud to have the Perkins School for the Blind - where Annie Sullivan graduated and Helen Keller was educated - in my congressional district, in Watertown, MA.
“Whether it’s a Braille reader or a broadband connection, access to technology is not a political issue – it’s a participation issue.
“Each of us should be able to participate in the world to the fullest extent possible, and the latest communications and video devices and services can enrich and ennoble how we experience and enjoy our lives.
“We’re here on 20th anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act, which the first President George Bush signed into law, underscoring the non-partisan nature of this vital issue.
“The 20th anniversary is an opportunity to look back and reflect on the progress we’ve made.
“When I was chairman of the telecommunications subcommittee:
-In 1990 –We made sure that Americans who are deaf could make telephone calls.
-Around the same time (1989-90): We mandated that television shows be closed captioned for the deaf. Many deaf and hard of hearing people say that closed captioning is the single modern accessibility technology that has changed their lives the most.
-In the 1996 Telecom Act: We inserted Section 255, which required accessibility of all telephone equipment, including telephones, telephone calls, call waiting, speed dialing, caller ID and related services.
“Two decades ago, Americans with disabilities couldn’t get around if buildings weren’t wheelchair accessible; today it’s about being Web accessible.
“The ADA mandated physical ramps into buildings. Today, individuals with disabilities need online ramps to the Internet so they can get to the Web from wherever they happen to be.
“From the time of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan - through the Americans with Disabilities Act - to closed captioning for television programming and ability of the deaf to make telephone calls – and now to the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act on the Floor today, we’ve made important progress.
“We’ve moved from Braille to Broadcast, from Broadband to the Blackberry.
“Annie Sullivan used special language she spelled in Helen Keller’s palm – In the 21st century, we’ve moved from the palm to the Palm Pilot. And we must make all these devices accessible.
“We’ve gone from hands to hand-held computers.
“Annie Sullivan was an incredibly dedicated and determined teacher. Now, technology needs to be the teacher, the constant companion providing instruction and access to the world and opportunities that otherwise would be out of reach.
“By age ten, Helen Keller had mastered reading Braille and manual sign language. She then wanted to learn how to speak.
“At the Horace Mann School for the Deaf in Boston, Helen took lessons. Then Annie took over and worked with Helen. Helen Keller did learn to speak – and Helen Keller is still speaking to us today – about how all of us should make the most of our abilities and participate in society to the fullest, but we need the technologies to make that possible.
“The bill we are considering today significantly increases accessibility for Americans with disabilities to the indispensable telecommunications and video technology tools of the 21st century by:
-Making getting on the Web easier through improved user interfaces for smart phones
-Enabling Americans who are blind to enjoy TV more fully through audible descriptions of the on-screen action
-Making cable TV program guides and selection menus accessible to people with vision loss
-Providing Americans who are deaf the ability to watch new TV programs online with the captions included
-Mandating that remote controls have a button or similar mechanism to easily access the closed captioning on broadcast and pay TV
-Requiring that telecom equipment used to make calls over the Internet is compatible with hearing aids
-For low-income Americans who are deaf-blind, providing a share of the total $10 million per year of funding to purchase accessible Internet access and telecom services so these individuals can more fully participate in society
“Today’s ‘Miracle Worker’ is technology, and here’s what it looks like:
“It’s not just about touching the palm like it was in Annie and Helen’s day, but about touching the pad.
“New technologies and services are neither intrinsically good nor bad. They’re only good when we animate them with the human values that reflect the best of what we are as a society: opportunity, independence, equal access for all.
“These are timeless American values that were as relevant when Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller were working together as they are today.
“This legislation we are considering today is intended to increase access for Americans with disabilities to the technological tools needed to succeed in today’s interconnected world.
“I once again thank my colleagues for their support – Reps. Waxman, Boucher, Barton, and Stearns.”
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