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Broadband Opportunities for People With Disabilities

August 24th, 2009 by Elizabeth Lyle - Special Counsel for Innovation, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau

Elizabeth Lyle BBI just joined the broadband team last week to help out on the disability access policy issues. When Cheryl King, the workshop coordinator, told me that we were going to conduct a 90-minute town hall meeting with well over 100 participants which would cover 16 sets of questions and would allow for participation via the Internet and a phone bridge, I thought she was ...um ... gutsy.  But she and her team managed to do all of that - as well as integrate into the program powerful remarks from Special Observers Kareem Dale, the President's Special Assistant for Disability Policy, and Marcie Roth, Senior Advisor, Disabilities Issues at FEMA.  Chairman Genachowski and Commissioner Copps were also on hand.  Team leader Blair Levin gave opening remarks at the workshop and stayed for the entire time, engaging the participants with numerous follow up questions.

Disabilities-Workshop-Hilbrook

The format allowed us to hear from a large number of thoughtful, knowledgeable, and passionate people who care deeply that we get this right.  We heard comments from the disability community, industry, academia, and government about today's broadband marketplace, the potential that broadband holds for people with disabilities, and strategies for achieving full access.  We covered a lot of topics in a short time, some of which include:  universal design and the importance of considering accessibility early in the design and development phase;  the challenges of interoperability; what companies are currently doing to make their products and support services accessible; consumer needs; technological advances that may drive the increased use of broadband by people with disabilities; sources of funding that could promote greater usage; how we should define broadband; the role of industry consortium in promoting accessibility; the role of government and regulation; and the need to include a principle of inclusion in the National Broadband Plan.

We are still in the fact-gathering, early stages of the process, and the record from the Notice of Inquiry and the transcript from the proceedings today provide a good starting point.  But we have a lot of work to do.  As Blair said at the workshop, our task is to integrate disability access issues into all aspects of the National Broadband Plan.

We need your help to do that.  We need more details and facts and data about the most effective and efficient mechanisms for ensuring broadband access for people with disabilities; about how to achieve affordability and maximum utilization of broadband; about the status of deployment for people with disabilities; and about how to consider people with disabilities as we prepare a plan for use of the broadband infrastructure and services to further health care, education, job creation, and the numerous other national purposes.

Disabilities-Workshop-Dale-1

Recognizing that we still need to add to the record, Cheryl announced that we will hold an additional workshop on October 20.  But we also need specific, detailed submissions from you that will allow us to draft a plan that will accomplish the objectives that Congress has set out for us.  If you have some thoughts about a specific process that best would elicit the record we need, please let us know.

--Below are more photos from the Workshop--

Disabilities-Workshop-21 Disabilities-Workshop-Dale-2 Disabilities-Workshop-11 Disabilities-Workshop-Blair-Levin 

 

 

5 Responses to “Broadband Opportunities for People With Disabilities”

  1. Ignatius says:

    I think broadband should be available in everywhere there is a human (except to jails or prisons), especially the disabled and elderly. There are so many people who cannot travel to learn more about whatever it is that interests them or relieves their loneliness or isolation (such as in nursing homes). Surfing the "interwebs" makes it possible to escape. For many people, that relief alone can be the difference between a living hell (staring at four walls in a building filled with dying people) and conversing with someone, anyone. (Of course, broadband is worthless if people can't get electricity.) The monopoly that cable companies have gotten away with for decades is obscene. Even with competition, they just watch out for each other and end up just acting like different divisions of the same company. I've had it. Customer service? Oh please. They stopped caring about that ages ago. (Don't get me started about cellphone company customer service, which really should be called customer abuse.) There are rural areas that cable companies won't run cable to because there aren't enough customers, they claim. So much for capitalism alone meeting every need.

  2. Norm says:

    I find it interesting looking that those in the meeting, there isn't one individual shown at least that is in a wheelchair. I realize that not all "disabled" are in wheelchairs, but there are many who are and certainly would benefit from broadband. But like so many things dealing with the "disabled", they themselves are never asked what they think nor included in discussions.

  3. Jim Tobias says:

    Thanks so much for the workshop -- it was great. I look forward to the next event.

    I agree with Norm that people with all kinds of disabilities can benefit from broadband. I think the reason we see more people with hearing or vision disabilities at a workshop like this is that too often, broadband applications and services require "normal" hearing and vision -- websites without alternative text for images, videos without captions, etc. We need to reach out to all segments of this community and communicate about the advantages of emerging technologies for education, communication, employment, social participation, entertainment, etc.

  4. Elizabeth Lyle says:

    Thank you for your comments. We agree that we need to reach out to all segments of the disability community as we work on this initiative and will work to do that.

  5. Nick Dupree says:

    Please notice the lack of people with disabilities commenting here. It's because most of us don't have access to computers!

    For people with disabilities, the majority of us are in poverty, so cost is the biggest barrier to obtaining broadband. Unless the government is willing to provide us vouchers or something that put computers and the internet within our reach, you will continue to see penetration of broadband stubbornly low in the disability community.

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