21st Century Communications & Video Accessibility Act passes the Senate (S. 3304)

Large Telecommunication DishThe following message is from Jenifer Simpson at the American Association of People with Disabilities on the Senate’s passage of the “21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act” (S.3304) by unanimous consent. While this is not H.R. 3101 which many believe offers even greater forward movement in the arena of new media and accessible technology, the fact that the legislation passed by unanimous consent is a significant win for advocates. If ANY legislator had even questioned a small part of the bill, it would have halted it in its tracks.

From Jenifer:

U.S. Senate Passes the 21st Century Communications & Video Accessibility Act by Unanimous Consent!
Late in the evening on Thursday, August 5, 2010, the U.S. Senate passed by unanimous consent the “Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010” (S. 3304). This is a monumental step forward in accessible technology for people with disabilities.

To ensure Senate passage, earlier in the week, Senator Pryor (D-AR) introduced an amendment to improve S. 3304 and this amended version passed. Like H.R. 3101, passed on July 26, 2010 by the U.S. House of Representatives (348:23), S. 3304 will:

– Require captioned television programs to be captioned when delivered over the Internet.
– Authorize the FCC to require 7 hours per week of TV video description on the top 4 network channels and top 5 cable channels nationwide.
– Allocate up to $10 million per year for communications equipment used by individuals who are deaf-blind.
– Require televised emergency information to be accessible to individuals who are blind or have low vision.
– Require accessibility of advanced communications equipment and services, such as text messaging and e-mail.
– Require access to Internet services that are built-in to mobile telephone devices, like smart phones, if achievable.
– Require devices of any size to be capable of displaying closed captioning, to deliver available video description, and to make emergency information accessible.
– Require accessible user controls for televisions and set-top boxes, and easy access to closed captioning and video description.

And much more.

S. 3304 now goes to the House of Representatives for their vote. Advocates support and expect the House to pass S. 3304 soon and then, on to the President for signature!

I very much appreciate the space and support that the AAPD board, staff and supporters have provided so we can serve the disability community in this way through our coalition of organizations for accessible technology (COAT).

I am honored and privileged to have been a member of the lobbying team that has worked for this legislation for over four years. This work has brought hundreds, if not thousands, of people with sensory disabilities vision loss, hearing loss, deaf-blind, others into a political process, For instance, H.R. 3101 has become a household word for many our deaf, blind and deaf-blind communities. Companies never before aware of how much their products and services impact our lives now have to better innovate for accessibility. People at the local level who may never have heard about AAPD now know much more about us and what we do. Significantly, we have demonstrated that the community of people with disabilities has political power: among the competing voices, our voice has been heard on Capitol Hill and we secured what many felt was almost impossible.

Of course, there are challenges ahead in working with the implementing agency, the Federal Communications Commission and in collaborating with industry. But most importantly, the everyday TV, Internet and phone tools so many of us take for granted will now become more accessible and usable for all people with disabilities. Truly, like the ADA 20 years ago, we are making history now!

All I can say is, “Well done!” For those of you who don’t know Jenifer, I can tell you, she has put her blood, sweat and tears into this bill. Countless hours spent knocking on doors all over Captiol Hill talking to legislators about how important it is. ALSO, she is one of those advocates who practices what she preaches with regard to keeping everyone “in the loop” about what is going on and what can be done to support the legislation. I’m not talking about keeping “policy folk” like me in the loop, but people like you – Individuals with disabilities or with family members with disabilities, or who just plain believe in equal access to all aspects of society (including cultural). This legislation passed because everyone took ownership. THAT is what makes this win truly a team effort. I look forward to hearing what happens as this bill moves to the House.