Federal Communications Commission

The Chairman’s Award and An Online Problem-Solving Commons

May 20th, 2010 by Elizabeth Lyle - Special Counsel for Innovation, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau

This is the second in a series of posts seeking public input on the new Accessibility and Innovation Forum (“A&I Forum” or “Forum”) that we will be launching in July. The first post sought public comment on a clearinghouse and can be found here.

One recommendation in the National Broadband Plan is to establish a Chairman’s Award for Accessibility and Innovation to recognize innovations “that have made the greatest contribution to advancing broadband accessibility.” We seek your input on the best way to structure such an award.
One possibility is to set up the award so that the first part of the awards cycle is focused on identifying and prioritizing problems to be solved. For this part of the cycle (perhaps with a deadline of December 1, 2010), the Commission would solicit submissions from people with disabilities, students (including those work in legal clinics and technology programs, as well as college and high school students), grassroots advocates, researchers, and others to identify barriers to technology faced by people with disabilities. We would encourage presentations through on-line videos, blog posts, or other means and would be particularly interested in presentations that would help educate and inspire those who have not been widely exposed to accessibility issues. We would expect such presentations to highlight technology barriers faced by people with disabilities and applications needed to make technology more usable or relevant. 
For the second part of the cycle (perhaps starting in January 2011), we would recognize and post the most compelling submissions from the first part of the cycle and challenge industry, academia, developers, researchers, students, and others to address these problems. 
We seek comment on the best way to promote the widespread participation of problem identifiers and problem solvers. In particular, we seek ideas on how to reach out to potential participants who have not taken part in Commission activities previously. Should we have eligibility requirements for the problem identifiers and/or the problem solvers?
We would like to use the mechanisms that we establish to implement the Chairman’s awards to build an online “problem-solving commons” in which problems are presented and solved on an ongoing basis, apart from the award cycle. We seek input on how this can be done and what the time frame for doing so should be. 
Should we consider using the Chairman’s Award as a one-time award to spur the development of an ongoing online problem-solving commons? Would it be more effective to have an annual award or awards? Should we commit to making an award or awards in July 2011 or should we determine the length of the “problem solving” cycle after we determine the nature of the challenge or challenges that we will present?
 What sort of recognition would encourage participation in the awards process and in the problem-solving commons on an ongoing basis?    To the extent that we are able to do so without raising legal concerns, should we partner with foundations or private industry to award monetary prizes? How much would a monetary award spur participation by both the problem identifiers and the problem solvers? If a monetary prize is part of the award, what should the amount be?
In the alternative, should the Commission seek nominations from outside parties to recognize private and/or public sector innovations that have made a significant contribution to advancing access to broadband or other technologies for people with disabilities? If so, what should be the eligible time frame for the innovation? What should the criteria be for such an award? What entities or individuals would be eligible to win? Should an accessibility advancement related to any mainstream or assistive technology be eligible for the Chairman’s Award? How should we structure the nomination process? How should the winner be selected? Should the Commission partner with other public or private entities to choose the winner? In the event that the Commission uses a nomination process, should it partner with foundations, companies, or other entities to establish a cash award for the winner? If so, what should the amount be?
We welcome any suggestions or models that you may recommend. You can respond directly to this post, file a comment in docket CG10-100, or e-mail comments and suggestions to AND We would appreciate feedback as soon as possible but ask that you file any comments no later than Thursday, June 10
You can also sign up to receive periodic e-mails about the Forum’s activities and other Commission accessibility issues by sending an e-mail to We look forward to hearing from you!

4 Responses to “The Chairman’s Award and An Online Problem-Solving Commons”

  1. Jim Tobias says:

    I hope that this Prize is not just directed towards technological solutions. Many barriers exist beyond engineering, and in fact these may contribute far more to the exclusion of millions of people with disabilities from the benefits of ICT. The Commission already intends to address the lack of information about accessible broadband products and services in its Clearinghouse. “Best Practices” are needed all along the broadband value chain, and should also be incented and recognized. “Links” that could be included are:
    Customer Support (including installation)
    Product Documentation
    Marketing Communications
    Corporate Communications
    Market Research and Analysis
    System Integration
    Standards Development
    Trade Association Activities
    Professional Development (developers and clinicians, social workers, educators, etc.)
    Consumer Advocacy
    Family/Caregiver Integration
    Educational Institutions
    Public Sector / Civic Engagement / Social Participation
    Awareness Media

    There are certainly others. The point is, without innovation and dedication in these areas, even the most accessible products in the world will not reach the majority of consumers who can benefit from them.

  2. Susan Mazrui on behalf of WID says:

    The World Institute on Disability (WID) applauds the Commission for its forward thinking approach on accessibility and innovation. Prizes can help recognize and highlight innovative efforts. The Chairman’s Award could be an important first step to build awareness of the work that has been done to ensure that people with disabilities can fully participate in society and to illustrate the immense potential of new technology. Monetary awards could provide incentives and these could be in various forms including scholarships or support for future development. Engaging high level executives from technology companies in the final judging, side by side with representatives from the disability community, can also provide an important incentive for new developers.

    Addressing the challenges people with disabilities face by developing innovation technologies could enable those from all walks of life to use their talents to benefit society as a whole. Showcasing the results of these challenges is critical and could have influence well beyond developers in the United States. It can also be a means to demonstrate how people with disabilities use technology to be economically independent and fully integrated in the community. WID encourages the Commission to refrain from a “poster child” type approach which can reinforce negative stereotypes about disability. WID also urges the FCC to work with mainstream media, on-line and to employ social networking to reach developers as well as more traditional means such as conference calls or direct meetings with the disability community.

    However, the incentives with the most sustainable results, like the Energy Star program, also provide an incentive for long term commitment and development. The World Institute on Disability urges the Commission to work with businesses and other Federal agencies to identify or develop additional incentives that will encourage large and small companies to invest in on-going development in the field of accessibility. This could change accessibility from going beyond mere compliance and could help encourage employment of individuals with disabilities. WID agrees that providing recognition for best practices in business would help further access to broadband by persons with disabilities. Efforts made by businesses to implement new customer support practices such as ASL video customer care, adopt Universal Design practices or assist in the development of accessibility and usability standards such as those taken to promote hearing aid compatibility in cordless phones are also important and should be recognized.

    An on-line tool that would enable disability organizations and individuals with disabilities to post challenges to the developer community could further bridge the gap between the technology “haves” and “have nots.” Promoting interaction among the disability and developer communities could also provide opportunities for “reverse mainstreaming” where people previously unfamiliar with disability can become more comfortable. Prior to launch, the Commission should work with disability organizations to identify existing resources for people with disabilities and make these available on-line as well. This, in addition to a Clearinghouse, could help individuals learn of existing non-technology based approaches used by people with disabilities, on-going international efforts, as well as direct service opportunities.

    Susan Mazrui, Board Chair, on behalf of the World Institute on Disability

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Thanks to both Jims for your very helpful comments. We are trying to think broadly about how to structure the Chairman's Award and a recognize a wide variety of activities that could support accessibility. Perhaps a Top 10 List of Accessibility Achievements? The comments re: how we have to think carefully about the objectives of the award (and how much $$ would be optimal) are very helpful as well.

  4. Jim Fruchterman says:

    See more extensive comments posted on the final of the four blog posts. Here's the portion on this post:

    Specific comments on the proposed Chairman’s Awards.

    I think identification of problems could be a very exciting opportunity, to build up a detailed list of requirements that could inspire developers and problem solvers. It’s not clear that money awards would be an important driver of this Phase: the gift of attention to the issue would be the main payoff.

    The bigger question is about how to structure the second phase. Awards programs are around providing incentives to encourage certain kinds of behaviors. The FCC has to think about what its biggest objectives are. Are they intended to inspire students? Change the behaviors of mainstream tech companies? Launch new solutions for people with disabilities? Recognize past accomplishments?

    Of these different options, I’d be most excited about awards that would lead to innovation and new solutions for people with disabilities. The assistive tech field struggles with funding, and innovation is slower than in mainstream technology.

    Some awards programs are around encouraging students and individual inventors: with the incentive being prestige or a minor amount of money ($5-10,000). These encourage students and professors to think about accessibility. They don’t tend to lead to widespread adoption that benefits people with disabilities directly, though. Larger awards can encourage groups that have more capacity for sustained services. For example, the Tech Museum Awards of five $50,000 prizes each year attracts many organizations with real capacity who are seeking both prestige and funding that could be significant in getting the new projects off the ground. Lastly, you have larger X-Prize style awards, where the prizes are large and are intended to spur investments larger than the prize money involved. It’s not clear how effective this approach would be in accessibility, where most of the people (individuals, small AT vendors, nonprofits) who would be competing don’t have the funds necessary to win the prize. Of these three types, I think the medium-sized prizes would have the biggest impact.

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