Federal Communications Commission

Ongoing Workshops, Field Events, and Facilitated Dialogues

May 27th, 2010 by Gregory Hlibok

This is the fourth and final (at least for now!) in a series of blog posts seeking public input on the establishment of an Accessibility and Innovation Forum ("A&I Forum" or "Forum").  The first post sought input on clearinghouses and the second one sought input on the Chairman's Award. The third one sought input on a new accessibility blog.

The Accessibility and Innovation Forum will have ongoing workshops and field events.  In this post, we seek your input on what kinds of workshops, field events, and facilitated dialogues would best promote innovative accessibility solutions.  We seek your comment on how often the Commission should sponsor these events.  Should the Commission co-host the workshops and field hearings with other public and private entities, and if so, which ones?

To what extent should the workshops and field events focus on "big picture" technology issues?  For example, should we sponsor a session on the potential of cloud computing and other emerging platforms to address accessibility barriers and promote accessible technologies? 

To what extent should workshops and field events focus on best practices in the public and private sector or in academia? Which best practices should we highlight? Should our field events take place in centers of innovation? Could these events be an opportunity to engage innovators with diverse backgrounds and training in accessibility problem-solving?

To what extent should our workshops and field events focus on key issues discussed in the National Broadband Plan, including digital literacy for people with disabilities, telemedicine, distance learning, employment, civic participation, and public safety? 

To what extent should our workshops be used to support and build upon our rulemaking efforts?  For example, should we have sessions on the captioning of internet programming or on a standard for the use of real time text anytime VoIP is supported?  Should the Forum sponsor a series of facilitated dialogues to work through key issues?

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!

6 Responses to “Ongoing Workshops, Field Events, and Facilitated Dialogues”

  1. Guest says:

    FCC should do this on a fixed and well publicized ahead of time schedule so that people can learn about them and make time for them ahead of time. Such as one workshop each quarter held in an easy to get to location with lots of parking and access. Interesting speakers would be helpful. Being able to submit questions ahead of time to the speakers or panelists would be a good thing too. FCC should work with local organizations to make sure vulnerable populations are reached and hear about the workshop. Workshops that explain what broadband is and how it helps economics would be good. I think people are inspired by new things and innovation so some of the workshops should focus on that, but also since a lot of the old stuff isn't very accessible or usable, some of the workshops should focus on what and where innovation needs to occur. If there is an associated rulesmaking, make sure workshop is well ahead of the rulesmaking so it can be talked about at the workshop.

  2. Guest says:

    The specific vital topics to "action" ASAP (e.g. captioning of internet programming, a standard for the use of real time text anytime VoIP is supported; literacy for people with disabilities, distance learning, employment, civic participation, and public safety) will require regular ongoing federal expertise and support to follow up in local and regional areas with local and regional expertise and discussions.

  3. LS says:

    Your mission is so important and urgent, and includes several different needs and questions. My suggestion is to focus first on previously neglected constituencies - those with differences (disabled and very able in many ways) and those in rural areas, with a universal access approach that will benefit all citizens.

    (first part of prior comment, thanks)

  4. Jim Fruchterman says:

    Comments on the FCC's Accessibility Plans (June 2010)

    My main recommendation to the FCC is to be more ambitious about accessibility. Although the Clearinghouse and Awards programs could be helpful to the cause of greater access for people with disabilities, I don’t think they truly take on the biggest opportunity for change.

    We have a model for this kind of change: TTYs (text telephones) and relay services though the telephone. When the technology in question was the telephone, those people with disabilities with the greatest barrier to use, the deaf, had access to technologies that provided a decent level of service.

    We need to think much bigger with the Internet and the full range of disabilities. It’s certainly within our technical capabilities to provide a basic level of access to the information and communication capabilities of the Internet and web through broadband. For each American who has a disability that affects access to information and communication capabilities, there are tech solutions that could be delivered through broadband to make that resource accessible.

    If the FCC lacks the funding and/or legislative authority to make this happen, then my recommendation is to seek that funding and authority, and then make it happen.

    Examples of the kinds of solutions that I believe are possible:
    • Wizards that helps people determine the accessibility features they need, without a focus on disability diagnosis (needs and preferences over disability labels)
    • Infrastructure that makes it easier for resources to implement accessibility (see the proposed National Public Inclusive Infrastructure-NPII from Prof. Gregg Vanderheiden of the TRACE Center)
    • Cloud-based tools that read text aloud to broadband users who are visually impaired, learning disabled or developmentally disabled
    • Basic AT tools built into the web and broadband

    We definitely need to do more than simply talk about these needs - we must provide the resources/funding to develop and prove these solutions out in the short run and to deploy and maintain them over the long run.

    Specific comments on the proposed Clearinghouse.

    Disability information clearinghouses have been set up in the past, and have failed to fully meet the need or realize the potential of such a solution. If the FCC is to succeed with a new clearinghouse, it needs to avoid the mistakes of the past.
    • Old Clearinghouses rapidly became out of date, especially after the initial grant expired. The FCC should embrace a more Web 2.0 approach where users, experts and vendors can update the data every day, keeping it relevant and timely. Oversight needs to be with a light hand.
    • Material should be posted under an unencumbered open content license, so that the content can be shared widely, especially in case of the Clearinghouse losing funding as some future date (so that the content can be freely moved to a new home)
    • Promotion: the Clearinghouse won’t matter if no one visits. Consider Google and other search engine advertising (or see if Google will partner on a Google Grant). Actively optimize for search engines so that the people who need to find the information will.
    • The Clearinghouse could also host wizard functionality to help people decide what they need, and provide trial access to key accessibility technologies so that users can actually experience what the AT would do for them.
    • The biggest enemy of a Clearinghouse is irrelevancy. Make it an indispensable tool for people with disabilities, their families, educators, rehab professionals and the assistive and mainstream technology industries.

    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.

  5. Sheri A Farinha says:

    Thank you Greg! Happy to have the opportunity to share input this way! I hope that the FCC will also add videos (Vlogs) with such forums so that people using ASL can also provide you with input. This is real important in order to access the grassroots population of which the national broadband plan is trying to help! Especially if the Forum is to discuss key issues, it would be in your best interest to hire a person to do the discussion in video and to allow people to leave video comments on this forum.

    As for the workshops and field events. It would be helpful if the FCC could host workshops in several places around the country. Not everyone can get to Washington DC. The DRO Chief should be able to sign fluently to collect serious input and the filings should allow for people who use ASL to provide their comments in ASL. Otherwise you will continue to get form letters signed by deaf people, and that to me, is not true input especially if it is a company generated campaign!

    I think its real important to ensure that the VRS users of telecom access are part of the discussions surrounding the key issues outlined related to additional disabilities, access to telemedicine, participation in distance learning, access to employment as many govt agencies do not allow videophones due to security reasons and this in itself poses a barrier, civic participation by making sure that FCC's messages are disseminated to all VRS users, and last but not least, in the area of public safety, the FCC needs to include us in all discussions, not separately, as plans are made for NG911 - we need more and more workshops about this and to be all inclusive. I am still concerned that PSAPs are not in alignment with each other, and that there remains jurisdiction issues in which I feel the FCC and the USDOJ could take more agressive strides to ensure its a seamless effort. We need a single point of entry when it comes to access to emergency services. Too many diff govt entities are doing their own 911 thing and its almost like the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing.

    Hope this input is helpful, Thank you.

  6. Jim Tobias says:

    In developing its Forum, I would encourage the Commission to cooperate with other federal accessibility programs and agencies, for thorough and efficient issue coverage. By one count more than 30 separate federal programs address accessible ICT, and they may be missing opportunities to coordinate and harmonize both their approaches and their outputs.
    The Commission should adopt the Trace Center’s idea of a National Public Inclusive Infrastructure (NPII). As a participant in this project, I believe it offers a feasible and effective strategy for extending accessibility into and through the Internet, reaching millions more consumers with disabilities. NPII could provide an innovation platform to accessibility developers and mainstream companies, and would meet the needs of clinicians and funders as well. An NPII workshop and follow-up activities would make an excellent program element for the Forum. More information about NPII can be found at .
    TTY Migration. As consumers continue to supplement or supplant TTYs with other communication technologies, the social benefits of maintaining TTY compatibility, including basic text relay, shrink while the social costs remain high. I believe it is possible to develop a migration plan that takes into account the needs of current TTY users and all the many other stakeholders. A program that managed this change (compared to a passive “do-nothing”, “wait for them to disappear” scenario) would have higher benefits, lower costs, faster migration, and greater innovation. Only the Commission has the expertise and jurisdiction to develop such a plan, and the Forum would present an excellent venue in which to do so.
    Horizon Scan. Accessibility advocates have too often been the last to know about oncoming technological changes, and have only been able to respond by appeal to regulatory authority. This has put a burden on the Commission and other bodies, and given substance to claims that accessibility hampers innovation and market dynamism. The Forum can address this with an ongoing activity that seeks to identify the accessibility implications (positive and negative) of technologies and market realities that are 3-5 years away, and plan for them. Horizon Scan reports would be developed through research and dialogue. They would indicate a course of action: where standards can be influenced, how stakeholders should be alerted to the implications, and should include an assessment of regulatory applicability. There may always be some divergence of interests at some point, but an effective Horizon Scan element will reduce these and maximize the potential for cooperation and policy convergence.
    Finally, it is essential that advocates be able to participate in the Forum on an equal technological footing. Consumers and their representatives can help develop user interface specifications and respond to industry initiatives, but only if they have the necessary skillset and time to devote to the issues. This requires support.

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