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Legislative Update  June 24, 2008

Better Phone and Video Programming Access for Americans who are Deaf, Blind or Disabled

The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, H.R. 6320, was introduced on June 19th.  The bill is intended to fill a number of gaps in existing access to phone, Internet and TV program access by people with disabilities, especially t hose who are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind and blind.  It also lays important groundwork to promote accessibility to these media as new technologies develop, so Americans with disabilities are not left behind in access to public safety communications, telephone, Internet and other broadcast programming.  Authors of the legislation are Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM).  The Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT) and its 80+ member organizations are supporting this bill. 

Provisions include: 

- Requires access to televised emergency information via audio output for on-screen text by people who are blind or visually impaired.

- Requires audio access to on-screen program selection menus displayed on video programming devices for people who are blind or visually impaired according to offices that you all have visited or contacted already.  

- Restores FCC’s video description rules and applies them to digital programming.

- Requires easy access to user interfaces (controls) on video programming devices by people with disabilities, including audio output for people who are blind and visually impaired and one-button access on remote controls to closed captioning and video description functions.

- Extends closed captioning obligations to television-type video programming distributed over the Internet:  covers web-based video services that offer previously shown television programs and live video streaming that would otherwise be covered by the FCC’s captioning rules.

- Requires closed captioning decoder circuitry in all video programming devices, including PDAs, computers, iPods, cell phones, DVD players, TIVO devices and battery-operated TVs.  (Current law:  Decoder circuitry is only required on TVs with screens at least 13 inches)

- Clarifies scope of relay services to include calls between and among people with disabilities, and requires Internet-enabled service providers to contribute to the interstate relay fund.

- Allocates up to $10 million/year from the Universal Service Fund for equipment used by people who are deaf-blind.

- Requires support for real-time text data transmissions to facilitate access to next generation 9-1-1 systems by people with hearing loss.

- Allows use of Lifeline and Link-up universal service funds (USF) for broadband services.

- Requires access to phone services provided over the Internet.

Oklahoma’s Rep. John Sullivan serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which will first consider the bill.  COAT is hoping H.R. 6320 can gain enough cosponsors to secure its chances of passage this year.

More information on the bill at COAT’s website: http://www.coataccess.org/

Read the introduced bill: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/gpoxmlc110/h6320_ih.xml