For Rep. Markey’s 21st Century Accessibility Act, the time is now

President Barack Obama signed into law on Tuesday sweeping new legislation authored by Representative Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.). The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which Rep. Markey introduced in June 2009, will enable Americans with disabilities to use a wide range of devices and services needed in the digital era, including smart phones for accessing the Internet, closed captioning for online video, audio descriptions of television programming, audible emergency alerts and other technologies.

“We’ve moved from Braille to broadband, from tracing words in palms to navigating a Palm Pilot. Americans with disabilities need access to the latest 21st century communications and video tools to compete in the job market and engage in daily activities that increasingly rely on the latest technologies,” Rep. Markey said.

Rep. Markey’s legislation signed into law by President Obama is one of the most significant and comprehensive reforms focused on providing greater opportunities and accessibility for the disability community since the Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted 20 years ago. The new law will:

• Improve access to the Web for individuals who are blind through improved user interfaces for smart phones

• Enable Americans who are blind to enjoy TV more fully through audible descriptions of the on-screen action

• Make TV program guides and selection menus accessible to people with vision loss

• Provide Americans who are deaf the ability to watch new TV programs online with the captions included

• Mandate that remote controls have a button or similar mechanism to easily access the closed captioning on broadcast and pay TV

• Require that telecommunications equipment used to make calls over the Internet is compatible with hearing aids

For low-income Americans who are both deaf and blind, provide a share of a total $10 million per year to purchase accessible Internet access and telecom services so these individuals can more fully participate in society.

“The ADA mandated physical ramps into buildings. Today, individuals with disabilities need online ramps to the Internet so they can get to the Web from wherever they happen to be,” said Rep. Markey.

“Enactment of this bill is a landmark achievement in the fight for equal access to technology for all Americans. From the time of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan – through the Americans with Disabilities Act -to closed captioning for television programming and the ability of individuals who are deaf to make telephone calls – and now to the comprehensive communications and video accessibility bill signed today by the President, we’ve made important progress. I commend Chairman Waxman," he said.

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