Washington – Both houses of Congress have finally passed The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which requires that smart phones, television programs and modern communications technologies are accessible to people with vision and hearing loss. President Obama is expected to sign the bill.

Twenty years ago when the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) was signed into law, no one could have predicted the new technologies that now shape daily lives and work routines.  In today’s digital world, smart phones, DVD players, and the Internet have become part of the workplace, the classroom and daily life.  Many of these products remain inaccessible to people with vision and hearing loss, despite the fact that a growing number of Americans need technology to include accessibility features.

When signed into law, this legislation will give individuals with vision or hearing loss improved access to television programming, smart phones, the Internet, menus on DVD players, program guides on cable TV, and more. Specifically, it will:

  • Mandate mobile phone companies to make web browsers, text messaging, and e-mail on smart phones fully accessible.
  • Restore and expand requirements for video description of television programs, in addition to requiring cable companies to make their program guides and selection menus accessible to people with vision loss.
  • Provide $10 million in funding each year for assistive technology for deaf-blind individuals
  • Ensure that Internet-enabled mobile phones are hearing aid compatible.

The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act passed Congress with bipartisan support.  A number of members played a key role in moving the legislation forward.  In the U.S. Senate, the bill was championed by Senator Pryor (D-AR), with the support of Senator Kerry (D-MA), Senator Rockefeller (D-WV), Senator Hutchison (R-TX), and Senator Ensign (R-NV).  In the U.S. House, it was championed by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), with the support of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA), Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), and Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL).

SOURCE: American Foundation for the Blind