Sept. 14, 2011: Congress to FCC: 21st Century Technology Must Be Accessible to All

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, a bicameral group of lawmakers encouraged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ensure that individuals with disabilities are able to fully utilize communications services and equipment and better access video programming under the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA). Letters sent today to the Chairman and all three Commissioners from Representatives Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), House author of the Act, Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Mark Pryor,  (D-Ark.), Senate author of the Act, come as the Commission implements the CVAA regulations.
In October 2010, President Barack Obama signed the CVAA into law. The law enables Americans with disabilities to use a wide range of devices and services needed in the digital era, including smart phones for accessing the Internet, closed captioning for online video, audio descriptions of television programming, audible emergency alerts and other technologies.
The Commission should be guided by the central purpose of the CVAA – to help ensure that individuals with disabilities are able to fully utilize communications services and equipment and better access video programming. Such full utilization is critical for widening inclusion in educational, professional and cultural opportunities that otherwise would be out of reach for the more than 54 million Americans with disabilities,” write the lawmakers in the letters the FCC.
A copy of the letters to the Chairman and three Commissioners can be found here: Genachowski, Clyburn, Copps, McDowell .
The letter details three priority areas for the FCC to consider as it releases rules to fully implement the Act.
    •    The regulatory scope and compliance deadlines should support full, timely utilization by consumers with disabilities. The lawmakers call on the Commission to establish clear tests for evaluation of waiver petitions in the regulations in order to retain the integrity of the Act, writing that, “Narrowing the scope or delaying industry compliance with the CVAA would undermine the effectiveness of the Act.”
    •    Accessibility should be the rule, with only limited exceptions. The lawmakers point to Section 716 of the Act that requires manufacturers and service providers make equipment and services accessible unless they can demonstrate accessibility is unachievable. If a waiver is given, that determination of accessibility should be revisited as technology advances.
    •    Accessibility through third-party peripherals should not be a burden for consumers. Whether a manufacturer builds accessibility into its product or must rely on third party peripherals, the user experience should be seamless regardless of the manufacturer's choice.
Last month, the FCC approved new regulations required by the Act to mandate video descriptions. Video descriptions make video programming more accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired by describing the onscreen action.
Rep. Markey is a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and former chairman of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. Rep. Waxman is Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Rep. Eshoo is Ranking Member of the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee. Senator Kerry is Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet. Senator Pryor is a senior member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.