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Friday, December 29, 2006

Council Calls for Legislation to Prohibit Telecommunications Discrimination for People With Disabilities

The National Council on Disability (NCD) has released a policy paper calling on Congress and the Administration to end telecommunications and information services
discrimination for people with disabilities.

"The Need for Federal Legislation and Regulation Prohibiting Telecommunications and Information Services Discrimination" explores the need to adopt legislative and regulatory safeguards to guarantee equal access by people with disabilities to evolving high-speed broadband, wireless and Internet-based technologies. Experience shows that as these technological innovations stake their claim in American society, market forces will not be sufficient to ensure such access. Rather, Congress, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and other federal agencies will need to step up to ensure that these communications technologies remain accessible to and usable by all Americans with disabilities.

"Our nation already has in place a string of federal laws and regulations designed to guarantee various levels of access to telecommunications products and services. But in addition to leaving gaps in coverage, these statutes are rapidly becoming outdated because the analog technologies upon which they were premised are being substituted with technologies that are digitally and Internet-based," says NCD Chairperson John Vaughn. "As Congress, the FCC and other agencies take on the daunting task of defining regulatory measures that will govern the deployment of these next generation communication technologies, they should include safeguards to ensure that people with disabilities will not be left behind. Potential and real accessibility barriers to many new technologies already exist. Inaccessible user interfaces on consumer equipment, lack of interoperable and reliable text transmissions and obstacles to video and Web programming all threaten the ability of people with functional limitations to have equal access to these products and services."

Some of the recommendations include:

Communications Access
-- FCC or Congress: Extend the telecommunications accessibility
requirements of Section 255 of the Communications Act to Internet-based
services and equipment. Disability safeguards under the new legal
protections should include, among other things, accessible and compatible
user interfaces on end user equipment; a common standard for reliable and
interoperable text and video IP and wireless communications; redundant ways
of controlling devices and services; and access to user guides and
technical support.
Video Programming Access
-- FCC or Congress: Clarify that existing captioning obligations apply
to IPTV and other types of multi-channel video programming services that
are Internet-based.
Universal Service
-- FCC or Congress: Allow Universal Service Fund (USF) support for
broadband services to low-income individuals with disabilities, so that
these individuals can choose between public switched telephone network or
broadband services when they are entitled to Lifeline and Link Up-type
-- FCC or Congress: Require all IP-based providers (not only
interconnected Voice over Internet protocol providers, as is currently
required) to contribute to the USF treasury.
Americans with Disabilities Act
-- FCC or Congress: Require IP-based providers to contribute to interstate relay funds.
-- U.S. Department of Justice or Congress: Clarify that Web sites are covered under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act: Legislative Change
-- Expand Section 508's coverage to entities that are otherwise covered
under Sections 503 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

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