FCC Chair outlines disability approaches

Thursday, 11 March 2010 15:47pm

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) hosted an event in Washington DC on 10 March 2010 covering the issue of broadband access for people with disabilities. In his prepared remarks, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski outlined the FCC’s approach to its Broadband Plan, which it will deliver to Congress and the President next week.

Genachowski outlined four principles for improving access for people with disabilities. They are: 1. Enhancing coordination; 2. Improving enforcementand implementation; 3. Using data wisely; and 4. Updating policies for the 21st Century.

Under each area he listed actions. The formation of an interagency working group will help enhance coordination.  This will include assessing websites and IT equipment purchases to ensure that they are accessible. The working group will apply a ‘common-sense’ test to existing policies to ensure that they promote innovative, affordable, accessible solutions. For example, Medicare currently funds specialist disability equipment such as a US$8,000 Augmentative and Alternative Communication device, but won’t fund a US$300 smart phone with US$150 text-to-speech software that actually would do a better job. The group will also look at other technological breakthroughs (such as cloud computing) to see if the benefits of that are flowing onto access issues.

An Accessibility and Innovation Forum will be set up to allow collaboration between consumers, industry, developers and others to share best practice. This will include workshops and an annual Award program. 

The plan will recommend that accessibility laws and policies are updated, including the adoption of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (HR 3101) currently before Congress. Furthermore, the issue of captioning and video description (audio description) on the Internet and mobile devices needs to be examined. The Department of Justice should look at accessibility of commercial websites.

Finally, the plan calls for a US$10m fund each year to provide competitive funding for innovative devices, components, software applications and other assistive technologies. 

The full program and reporting on the event can be found at www.fcc.gov


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