Senators Pryor, Kerry Propose Equal Internet Access For Disabled

On May 5, 2010, Senators Mark Pryor (AR) and John Kerry (MA) introduced the “Equal Access to 21st Century Communications Act” (S. 3304).  Senators Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad, both from North Dakota, also co-sponsored the bill.

Hailed by equal access advocates as a major step forward for people with disabilities in ensuring accessible technology, the bill would modernize accessibility mandates in the Communications Act, bringing existing requirements up to date as television and phone services connect via the Internet and use new digital and broadband technologies.

Eric Bridges, Director of Advocacy & Government Affairs at the American Council of the Blind (ACB) said, “Much of S. 3304 would lead to greater accessibility for people with disabilities, such as more accessible video programming, including captioning and video description, regardless of distribution mode; and video programming equipment, such as televisions and other display devices, would also be accessible.”

However, some advocates have argued the Senate bill does not go as far as its companion measure in the House of Representatives – the “Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act” (H.R. 3101) – in reaching all the new technologies.  In particular, the National Association of the Deaf has been critical that the Senate bill is not as broad or well-defined as the House version.

Jenifer Simpson, Senior Director of Government Affairs at the American Association of People With Disabilities (AAPD) said, “We are confident that these issues – scope of accessible communications and the standard for compliance – will be resolved.”

A copy of a press released just issued by COAT – the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology – is in the Box.  COAT has been active in getting the Senate bill introduced.

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