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:
I’ve posted the information on how to provide your recommendations on these two issues in the comments.