Federal Communications Commission Celebrates the ADA and Creates Opportunities for Input

FCC ADA 20 Celebration - Full HouseYesterday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) celebrated the ADA with a full house event of presenters, performers and a Technology Conference at the U.S. Department of Commerce.

There was a video and a number of announcements and presentations made. I wanted to mention a few of the items that came up, including a story about FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski that I didn’t know, relating his long-time personal connection to accessible technology. From his remarks:

“When I was in high school on a college trip with my father, he took me into the stacks of the MIT library, and showed me engineering plans he had drafted as a graduate student studying engineering. They were for a device designed to someday help blind people read words on paper by translating text into physical signals. The lessons I learned from my father have remained with me all these years: Communications technology has the power to transform lives for the better, and everyone should have access to communications.”

Much of the discussion centered around the FCC’s new National Broadband Plan. There is a lot of money and a lot of effort being put into this plan and so for people with disabilities, it is critical to be aware of the opportunities to participate and play an active role in shaping what will be our telecommunications infrastructure for years to come.

The event yesterday was the launch of their Accessibility and Innovation Initiative, which uses the federal government’s ability to bring people together (as a convener) for discussion. They plan on bringing together people from industry, academia, government, business, and individuals with disabilities themselves to kind-of brainstorm and look at what are all the access problems there are in communications systems in the country and send out a challenge to inventors and entrepreneurs to come up with solutions. This would include sessions and workshops around the country to ensure that a truly diverse perspective is a part of the discussion. I think it is a great idea but I also think it’ll be a big challenge keeping everyone’s agendas in order. There is some natural tension between industry and disability advocates about accessibility. We may agree on the idea of accessibility, but the how and how much it costs and what are the requirements has sometimes differed significantly. Thus, it is critical that the disability community be actively engaged in these discussions.

Also announced yesterday were the new FCC Chairman Awards for Advancements in Accessibility that begin next year on the anniversary of the ADA to recognize individuals and companies who are working to improve access. I imagine it is similar to the Department of Labor’s old “New Freedom Initiative” Awards for employers who had created successful models for the hiring of people with disabilities.

Now, celebration items, aside there were two pretty big announcements that really require some action. The FCC announced that they are seeking public comments on:

  • The Commission's policies and practices to ensure compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and
  • Accessible mobile phone options for people who are blind, deaf-blind, or have low vision.
  • I’ve posted the information on how to provide your recommendations on these two issues in the comments.

    3 comments for “Federal Communications Commission Celebrates the ADA and Creates Opportunities for Input

    1. July 20, 2010 at 2:14 pm

      FCC Section 504 Compliance

      THE CONSUMER & GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS BUREAU SEEKS COMMENT ON THE COMMISSION'S POLICIES AND PRACTICES TO ENSURE COMPLIANCE WITH SECTION 504 OF THE REHABILITATION ACT OF 1973

      CG Docket No. 03-123

      Comments Due: September 20, 2010

      The Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau (Bureau) is reviewing the FCC’s policies and practices under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504).

      Section 504 requires federal agencies to make their programs and activities accessible to people with disabilities. Their Public Notice is seeking public comments (i.e. YOUR input) on the accessibility of the FCC’s programs and activities.

      The FCC has to review it's policies and practices becase of advances in technology and achievability, and then update its Section 504 Handbook, every three years. The Section 504 Handbook contains accessibility procedures and guidelines for releasing documents, holding meetings, receiving comments, and other aspects of FCC programs and activities.

      What they’re particularly interested in is the overall accessibility of the FCC’s activities and programs. This can include the availability of sign language interpreters, physically accessible buildings and meeting spaces, Braille documents, assistive listening devices, Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART), captioning, or any other accommodation issues.

      How do you comment?

      1. Make sure that any comments, issues or recommendations you send reference CG Docket No. 03-123.

      2. Comments may be filed using:

      (1) the Commission's Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) which you can get to from their website – http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/ecfs/,

      (2) the Federal Government's eRulemaking Portal – http://www.regulations.gov, or

      (3) by filing paper copies. If you use paper, you have to file an original and four copies, and send them to 445 12th Street, SW, Washington DC 20554.

      Just as a quick note, one of the things I found really neat was that they will accept comments in audio, Braille, electronic, and/or video formats (although those require a statement from the individual stating their identity).

      Obviously, this is my summary of the information. To read the notice for yourself (which, as always, I strongly encourage you to do) or to request it in an accessible format, send an e-mail to fcc504@fcc.gov or call the Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau at (202) 418-0530 (voice), (202) 418-0432 (TTY). It can also be downloaded in Word and Portable Document Format (PDF) at: http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/dro/section_504.html.

      For further information, please contact Pam Gregory, Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau, Consumer Affairs and Outreach Division, at (202) 418-2498 (voice), (202) 418-1169 (TTY), or e-mail at Pam.Gregory@fcc.gov.

    2. July 20, 2010 at 2:34 pm

      Wireless Telecommunications Bureau And Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Seek Comment on Accessible Mobile Phone Options for People who are Blind, Deaf-blind, or Have Low Vision

      Comment Date: September 13, 2010

      Reply Comment Date: September 30, 2010

      Back in May, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau held a workshop on Expanding Disability Access with Wireless Technologies (Wireless Access Workshop) to learn more about mobile communications issues facing people with disabilities and the ways in which new technologies can offer opportunities to meet the communications access needs of this community. Participants included stakeholders from the disability community, industry, academia, and non-profit organizations. And in June, the conversation continued, but this time to discuss telecommunications and Internet barriers experienced specifically by individuals who are blind and deaf-blind. In particular, wireless phone options were included in the concerns.

      As a result, the FCC is seeking more information and asking for input on the following:

      1. The wireless phone features and functions in the current marketplace that are not accessible for people who are blind, have vision loss, or are deaf-blind and the extent to which gaps in accessibility are preventing wireless communication access by these populations;

      2. The cost and feasibility of technical solutions to achieve wireless accessibility for these populations;

      3. Reasons why there are not a greater number of wireless phones particularly among less expensive or moderately-priced handset models that are accessible to people who are blind or have vision loss;

      4. Technical obstacles, if any, to making wireless technologies compatible with Braille displays, as well as the cost and feasibility of technical solutions to achieve other forms of compatibility with wireless products and services for people who are deaf-blind;

      5. Recommendations on the most effective and efficient technical and policy solutions for addressing the needs of consumers with vision disabilities, including those who are deaf-blind. And,

      6. Recommendations on actions that our bureaus or the FCC should take to address the current lack of access. For example, is additional guidance needed on specific access features that should be included in wireless products? Should we facilitate a dialogue among stakeholders in order to reach a specific agreement to address the accessibility concerns outlined above?

      Comments may be filed using:

      (1) the Commission's Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS)- http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/ecfs/,

      (2) the Federal Government's eRulemaking Portal – http://www.regulations.gov, or

      (3) by filing paper copies. This requires the original and four copies. U.S. Postal Service first-class, Express, and Priority mail must be addressed to 445 12th Street, SW, Washington DC 20554.

      To request materials in accessible formats for people with disabilities (Braille, large print, electronic files, audio format), send an e-mail to fcc504@fcc.gov or call the Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau at (202) 418-0530 (voice), (202) 418-0432 (TTY).

      FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Elizabeth Lyle, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, (202) 418-1776; TTY (202) 418-1169 or email at Elizabeth.Lyle@fcc.gov.

      Note from Day – I have to admit, I think it is interesting that the prior notice allowed submission of comments via other formats such as braille, video etc and this one doesn’t.

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