[Missouri-l] Fw: [leadership] ACB Quoted in Washington Post Article
chip at gatewayfortheblind.com
Mon Aug 16 12:44:19 CDT 2010
----- Original Message -----
From: Eric Bridges
To: leadership at acb.org ; announce at acb.org
Sent: Monday, August 16, 2010 12:38 PM
Subject: [leadership] ACB Quoted in Washington Post Article
Below is an article published in today's Washington Post dealing with the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act.
We are now in the middle of Congressional Recess until Sept. 13. When Congress comes back to Washington, The House will take up S.3304. I will provide an update to all when a firm date is set for the legislation to come to the floor.
Bills push to make Web devices more accessible to disabled users
By Cecilia Kang
Monday, August 16, 2010; 12:54 PM
Blind and deaf consumers, who have fought to make home phones and television more accessible, say they are now being left behind on the Web and many mobile
devices. Touch-based smartphone screens confound blind people who rely on buttons and raised type. Web video means little to the deaf without captioning.
But new legislation is in the works to put the same pressure on consumer electronics companies that revolutionized an earlier generation of technology for
the vision- and hearing-impaired.
"Whether it's a Braille reader or a broadband connection, access to technology is not a political issue -- it's a participation issue," said Rep. Edward
J. Markey (D-Mass.), the author of a House bill aimed at making the Internet more accessible to people with disabilities. "We've moved from Braille to
broadcast, from broadband to the BlackBerry. We've moved from spelling letters in someone's palm to the Palm Pilot. And we must make all of these devices
The consumer electronics, entertainment and communications industries have been slow to include the disabled, some lawmakers and advocates say. Big companies
have fought against government regulators dictating new technical requirements, saying the industry is better equipped to make its own engineering decisions.
Apple's iPhone has built-in speech software for the blind, but other smartphones require users to buy costly programs for the same functions. Some broadcasters
put videos on the Internet with captions, but not all. That can make inaccessible everything from the political videos that are now common on the Web to
pop culture clips that turn viral.
This past week, for instance, the "White Board Girl" clip of a fictitious employee quitting on a dry erase board or JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater's
comments fresh out of prison didn't have closed-captioning for the deaf or hard of hearing.
Markey's bill and one in the Senate would make mandatory some of the changes in technology that industry is slow to adopt on its own. It would allow a blind
consumers to choose from a broader selection of cellphones with speech software that calls out phone numbers and cues users on how to surf the Internet.
Legislation would make new television shows that are captioned also available online with closed-captioning. Remote controls would have a button that makes
it easier to get closed captioning on television sets.
But gaps would remain. Videos made and shared by users on YouTube and Facebook wouldn't require captioning. Vision-impaired cellphone users will in many
cases have to download speech software at an extra cost.
"This is simply about inclusion. You have an industry that is known for innovation but they don't have a cultural understanding of what universal design
truly means," said Rosaline Crawford, a legal director at the National Association of the Deaf.
The Consumer Electronics Association was at first opposed to legislation that would create blanket requirements for cellphones, set top boxes and other
electronics. But the trade group has come to agree on some points and now says a case by case analysis of how individual technologies can be more inclusive
is a good idea. Captioning for a television on your wrist, for instance, would be difficult to achieve.
Generally, the association said it prefers voluntary changes by the manufacturers, saying legislation has the danger of being quickly outdated in the fast-changing
Web industry. Google, for example, has introduced voice-to-text captions that can be used for some videos online. But Crawford said the application's accuracy
rate is about 80 percent.
"The marketplace is better off when innovators design technology, not when government officials try to change technology," said Jason Oxman, senior vice
president at CEA. "But what we've heard is a very legitimate goal by Congress that we share."
Yet even everyday tools that have been taken for granted are still not accessible for the disabled, some say.
When Eric Bridges, 32, moved to Arlington three years ago, he installed cable service for broadband Internet, phone and television. He and his wife are
blind and tech enthusiasts who do their research with computer software that uses speech to guide them through Web sites. When Bridges was in the market
for a cellphone, he was torn between his Samsung Jack smartphone and an iPhone because he'd have to separately purchase and download speech software to
help him use the Web browser and send e-mail.
But for their basic television service, the couple didn't notice until months later they were paying for a video recording service built into their set
top box fees. They can't use the feature, which is based on text menus and with no cues for the blind.
"I simply can't use this. I can't read the menus, and there is no software to help me. So I was paying for something that was useless to me," he said.
That's why he has pushed for legislation that would prod companies to make changes more quickly.
There are an estimated 50 million vision and hearing impaired in the United States, said Bridges, a director of advocacy for the American Council of the
"If we aren't being included, we have to believe we don't represent an important market to them," he said.
Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs
American Council of the Blind
2200 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 650
Arlington, VA 22201
ebridges at acb.org
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