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.
Disabilities Access Category
To address the barriers that people with disabilities face in accessing technology, the National Broadband Plan (“NBP”) recommends, among other things, that the Commission establish an ongoing Accessibility and Innovation Forum (“A&I Forum” or “Forum”). At the March 10 event rolling out the NBP’s accessibility recommendations, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Chief Joel Gurin announced that the Commission would launch the A&I Forum in July.
The Forum will be an ongoing collaborative problem-solving effort with diverse stakeholders to promote innovative solutions to broadband and other communications technology barriers. The Forum will allow the Commission to use new tools and tap into new sources of ideas and innovation to address accessibility problems, using ongoing online efforts, workshops, field events, and facilitated dialogues.
In July, we plan to (1) launch a clearinghouse; (2) announce guidelines for the Chairman’s Award for Accessibility and Innovation; (3) expand blog coverage of ongoing accessibility efforts in the public and private sector; and (4) announce future workshops and field events. Over the next 12-18 months, we will expand these efforts and add new initiatives.
We will be seeking input on each of these aspects of the new A&I Forum in a series of blog posts over the next two weeks. This post seeks input on an online clearinghouse.
One problem that consumers with disabilities face is that they are unable to find accessible communications technologies and assistive technologies, even if they currently exist. In addition, consumers often do not have the training and support they need to use these products. We would like to create an online space where consumers could find links to accessible products and product information that have been recommended by other consumers and/or provided by companies and vendors themselves.
We would like your thoughts on the best way for us to structure this on-line space. What guidelines should we have for inclusion of accessible products and information? Should we design the space so consumers can comment on the products and support information? What categories of products and services should we include? How should we ensure that the information in our clearinghouse stays current?
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 Elizabeth.Lyle@fcc.gov AND Pam.Gregory@fcc.gov. 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 AccessInfo@fcc.gov. We look forward to hearing from you!
Today, the Commission is releasing “A Giant Leap and a Big Deal: Delivering on the Promise of Equal Access to Broadband for People with Disabilities.” It is the second paper in a series of working papers that are being released in conjunction with the National Broadband Plan. And it is the first time the Commission has issued a working paper addressing accessibility and technology issues.
The “giant leap” is a reference to Marlee Matlin’s testimony at the Gallaudet Field Hearing on November 6:
It seems that all the hard work that we did 20 years ago has virtually disappeared when it comes to updating access standards for broadband and the Internet. Imagine Neil Armstrong watching a re-broadcast 20 years later, in 1989, of his first steps on the moon, only to find his words which echoed across the globe, “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” were no longer there – erased, as if he had never been to the moon. That’s how taking closed captions out of broadcast content now being shown on the Internet feels to millions of people like myself.
The “big deal” is a reference to comments on Broadband.gov of sandraleesmith46, who was quoted by the Chairman at the Silicon Flatirons event on March 10:
[I am] a disabled citizen on a very tight budget . . . I have this computer as a gift from my sister, and I currently have wireless Internet access as part of my rent at the RV park where I live. . . I have difficulty getting out and doing many things physically, and to shop, bank, and the like. . . Before going on line, I rarely socialized because the physical effort to get there, to do so, was just too great. With the Internet, I can do so with little energy output, and enjoy doing so. Believe it or not, that is a big deal.
In between these bookends, the paper provides an analysis of and a context for the National Broadband Plan’s accessibility recommendations. Relying on extensive feedback from the public, it discusses the barriers and opportunities in much greater detail. It discusses the role of industry innovation and the importance of building on ongoing efforts in the public and private sectors.
The paper also identifies gaps that must be addressed if we are going to accelerate the adoption of broadband by people with disabilities. We need to improve implementation and enforcement of existing accessibility laws. We must gather and analyze more information and coordinate accessibility policy and spending priorities. We need to update regulations and subsidy programs. We also must update our approach to accessibility problem solving and tap new sources of information and innovation and use the tools of new media and open government to promote collaborative problem solving.
The paper discusses how the recommendations in the National Broadband Plan will help address these needs. The paper discusses in more detail the creation of a Broadband Accessibility Working Group in the Executive Branch; the establishment of an Accessibility and Innovation Forum; and the modernization of accessibility laws, rules, and related subsidy programs by the FCC; the Department of Justice, and Congress.
And now we are all rolling up our sleeves to make the National Broadband Plan’s blueprint for accessibility a reality.
Joel Gurin and Karen Peltz Strauss are leading the charge from CGB and will be working with other bureaus to initiate several proceedings over the next few months. I’m also happy that I will be working with them and others throughout the Commission to set up the Accessibility and Innovation Forum. We will need your help to make these efforts a success and will be working closely with all stakeholders.
As the working paper concludes, delivering on the promise of equal access to the broadband infrastructure will be one of the “giant leaps” of our generation ... and we must show that we do believe that this is a big deal, for people with disabilities and for all Americans.
The Silicon Flatirons conference on The National Broadband Plan and Accessibility for People with Disabilities at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library in Washington, D.C. was a momentous occasion. It was a day filled with aspirations and hope -- and a belief that we could and would come together and fulfill Congress’ vision of broadband access for all Americans, including those with disabilities.
The day started with a welcome to an overflowing crowd by Nancy Davenport, the Director of Library Services at the D.C. Public Library and Dale Hatfield, the Executive Director of Silicon Flatirons. That was followed by powerful remarks by FCC Chairman Genachowski and the President’s Assistant for Disability Policy Kareem Dale.
FCC Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Chief Joel Gurin and I discussed the plan’s recommendations and implementation as well as the accessibility working paper which will be released soon. We spoke of the plan’s recommendation that the Executive Branch should convene a Broadband Accessibility Working Group, which, among, other things, would work to ensure that the government itself is a model of accessibility. We also announced that the FCC would establish an Accessibility and Innovation Forum at the FCC which would allow stakeholders to collaborate on accessibility solutions. We also discussed several specific actions to address accessibility and affordability concerns that the FCC, Department of Justice, and Congress should take.
Then Robert Atkinson of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and Jenifer Simpson of the American Association of People with Disabilities (both co-sponsors of the event) moderated a lively roundtable discussion among Eric Bridges, Vint Cerf, Rosaline Crawford, Larry Goldberg, Jason Goldman, Link Hoewing, Leah Katz-Fernandez, Fernando Laguarda, Axel Leblois, Susan Mazrui, Ari Ne’eman, Laura Ruby, Ken Salaets, Kate Seelman, and Gregg Vanderheiden.
We discussed many of the plan’s details, but it was the big picture ideas and fundamental principles – on which there was much agreement -- that carried the day:
- Broadband is a big deal. (sandraleesmith46).
- Accessibility equals independence. (Kareem Dale)
- Knowledge is power. (Eric Bridges)
- Knowledge is power, but so is community. (Ari Ne’eman)
- Information sharing is power. (Vint Cerf)
- Innovation often happens in unexpected ways. (Link Hoewing)
- There is a key role for innovation in solving accessibility challenges, especially when inclusion is part of the planning from the beginning. (Fernando Laguarda)
- [F]or the first time in history . . . the rights to access is a fundamental right for persons with disabilities in international law. (Axel Leblois)
- With broadband Internet access, I do not feel disabled. (Leah Katz-Hernandez)
- Now is the time to engage in this endeavor in earnest and show that we do indeed believe that this is a big deal. (Chairman Genachowski)
You can see video of the conference at http://www.FCC.gov/live.
The blueprint in the National Broadband Plan is ambitious, and we are heartened by all those who have expressed commitment to work with us to implement the vision. More soon on how we plan to keep the momentum going, but in the meantime, thank you to all those who have helped shape the plan and make it a vehicle to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to broadband communications.
Nobody who was at the FCC’s broadband field hearing at Gallaudet University in November will forget the passion of Marlee Matlin.
Her dedicated efforts led to captioning laws being passed nearly a generation ago.
But now, she told us, her work was being “erased.” Closed captions were being taken out of broadcast content being shown on the Internet. Among her many examples: her own performance on “Dancing with the Stars!” Her distress was palpable.
We posted a video clip of Marlee’s statement on our blog, and her passion was seen over the blogosphere. Someone forwarded the clip to Disney. And Disney got to work.
As a result, Disney has announced that ABC.com is expanding its captioning efforts. Instead of just captioning scripted dramas and comedies, it has committed to captioning all of its long form programs that it puts on its online player at ABC.com, including reality and live shows like “Dancing With The Stars.”
Way to go, Marlee. Way to go, Disney. And way to go to the person in the blogosphere who thought to connect the two.
By Sherrese Smith, Media Advisor to Chairman Genachowski, and David Goldman, Advisor to Chairman Genachowski on Wireless Issues
The FCC has worked since its inception in 1934 to help the people with hearing disabilities gain equal access to telecommunications and media. To mark the Commission’s 75th anniversary, Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc. (TDI) honored the Commission on Friday with an award recognizing this vital work. When presenting the award, Dr. Roy Miller, the Board President of TDI, as well as other members of TDI, took the opportunity to note the FCC’s contributions towards access to communication for people with hearing, vision, and other disabilities. Chairman Genachowski accepted the award on behalf of the Commission and stressed the Commission’s commitment to these crucial issues and the importance of access to communications for all.
The FCC held a field hearing at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. on November 6, 2009 as part of its effort to gather information from experts and consumers for the development of a National Broadband Plan. Among those on the first panel was Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin, who is the spokesperson for the National Association of the Deaf for accessible broadband services and Internet media.
As referenced in my last post, we have a few follow up questions from the October 20th workshop. We would very much appreciate your input on these questions no later than November 16th and sooner if possible. In some cases, we may have some information in the record about a certain topic, but we would like more information from a broader range of stakeholders. It is not necessary to repeat things that you've already put in the record (but feel free to cite back to comments you've already filed).
If you think it would be useful to meet with us and discuss, please request an ex parte meeting by clicking here.
Please respond with your ideas to this blog post, or file your comments using our Electronic Filing Comment System, using either ECFS Express or our standard submission page if you need to attach a file.
1. There was a lot of discussion at the roundtable about the concept of getting companies, independent software developers, consumers, government, and universities together to share best practices, understand consumer needs, and foster innovation. What are the next steps to establishing an innovation center or focus center program? Are there some specific ideas on this and more information about models we can follow?
2. There were some general concerns expressed that applying regulation to broadband services and equipment might hamper innovation. Have the processes mandated under Section 255, including as they relate to equipment and devices developed for VoIP services, hampered innovation? Have the FCC's existing captioning rules or wireless Hearing Aid Compatibility rules hampered innovation?
3. What is the effect of Section 255, HAC, and Section 508 regulations on the telecom and electronic and information technology marketplace?
4. The record contains a few examples of companies voluntarily making devices used for Internet access accessible to people with disabilities - in particular, the Apple I-Phone was mentioned several times at the workshop. What are some other examples of which we should be aware? What motivates companies to make their products accessible on a voluntary basis? Will companies consider accessibility issues in the design and development of their broadband products and devices on a widespread basis if there is no mandate to do so?
5. What can the government do to attract additional capital investment to make products accessible? What can the government do to incentivize independent software designers to create innovative assistive and adaptive technologies?
6. How is the development and distribution of assistive and adaptive technologies currently funded, including assistive and adaptive technologies used to access the Internet? What specific recommendations should we make to address concerns expressed in the record about the expense of assistive and adaptive technologies? Are there specific recommendations regarding how state programs could partner with a federal universal service program?
7. Are there specific recommendations about the best way for the FCC to get more involved in International efforts to harmonize standards relating to accessibility?
How do you sum up over seven hours of rich and thoughtful content from our October 20 workshop in one blog post? I'll do my best to follow the model of the 22 participants of the afternoon policy roundtable, each of whom managed to state their views of what recommendations we should include in the National Broadband Plan succinctly and passionately -- while at the same timing beating the three-minute buzzer.
In the first panel, Leveraging Federal and State Resources to make Broadband Accessible and Affordable, we heard about the efforts of Department of Commerce/NTIA, Department of Agriculture/RUS, the Department of Education, the Department of Labor, the Government Services Administration, and the State of Missouri (from Danny Weitzner, Gary Boles, Jennifer Sheehy, Richard Horne, Terry Weaver, and Marty Exline, respectively) to support broadband access for people with disabilities. While each agency is clearly making an important contribution, the daunting task before us is to figure out how we can better coordinate our efforts at the tribal, local, state, federal, and international levels.
In the second panel, we heard consumers discuss very movingly the specific barriers and opportunities that broadband presents to those who have speech, hearing, vision, hearing and vision, mobility, and intellectual disabilities. A consultant gave a "big picture" analysis of these barriers and opportunities. The panel did a superb job of clearly articulating the problems that we have to solve. Thanks to Eric Bridges of the American Council of the Blind; Rosaline Crawford of the National Association of the Deaf; Peggy Hathaway of Spinal Cord Advocates; Rebecca Ladew of Speech Communications Assistance by Telephone; Elizabeth Spiers of the American Association of the Deaf-Blind; Jim Tobias of Inclusive Technologies; and Elizabeth Weintraub of the Council on Quality and Leadership.
"Advancing National Purposes for People with Disabilities" was the theme of the third panel. Jim Fruchterman of Benetech discussed how Bookshare allows people with vision, learning, and mobility disabilities to have online access to over 50,000 books and periodicals. Peggy Hathaway of Spinal Cord Advocates discussed how broadband provides new job and civic participation opportunities for people with mobility disabilities, and Claude Stout of Telecommunications for the Deaf discussed the urgent need for people in the deaf and hard-of-hearing community to be able to contact E-911 services directly using pagers, e-mail, and real-time text and video. Kate Seelman of the University of Pittsburgh discussed how broadband-enabled telerehabilitation can help people with disabilities better manage their health and employment, and Ishak Kang of DOT UI discussed how the Smart Grid could benefit people with disabilities.
During the lunch break, people had time to check out some technology exhibits. They included a demonstration of WGBH's Teacher Domain; Bookshare; PLYmedia's online video captioning solution; RIM's blackberry smartphones; and the Wireless RERC's emergency communications project.
The fourth panel was a fascinating exploration of the technological barriers and opportunities relating to broadband accessibility. Among other things, the panelists addressed E-911 issues; the importance of interoperability and open architecture; the potential to address accessibility challenges through cloud computing; and the challenges related to captioning on the Internet. We needed a lot more time than 55 minutes to cover these topics (and other topics that we wanted to cover). Thanks to Greg Elin of United Cerebral Palsy and Life Without Limits; Jim Fruchterman of Benetech; Dale Hatfield of Silicon Flatirons; John Snapp of Intrado; and Gregg Vanderheiden of the Trace Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for their participation.
The contributions of the wide variety of stakeholders who gave us their views on what recommendations we should include in the National Broadband Plan were amazing. Most consumers and some in industry stated that it was critical to update the accessibility regulatory framework and promote universal design but others warned that too much regulation could hamper innovation. A wide range of stakeholders thought that subsidizing broadband services and equipment -- particularly expensive assistive technologies used by people with disabilities -- was critical. Most stakeholders thought that consumer/industry/government fora could play an important role in addressing some complex issues. Most participants also thought that the government could take an active role in working with industry to promote best practices -- and perhaps foster some kind of innovation center. Finally, many stated that government itself should be a better model of accessibility and do a better job of enforcing the accessibility rules that are already on the books, including the ADA, Section 255, and Section 508. We very much appreciate the participation of Rob Atkinson of IITF; Ellen Blackler of AT&T; Alan Brightman of Yahoo; Kathy Brown of Verizon; Deborah Buck of the Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs; David Capozzi of the U.S. Access Board; Larry Goldberg of the Media Access Group at WGBH; Patrick Halley of NENA; Dale Hatfield of Silicon Flatirons; Matthew Knopf of PLYmedia; Jane Mago of NAB; Helena Mitchell of the Wireless RERC at Georgia Tech; Randy Pope of the American Association of the Deaf-Blind; Ken Salaets of ITIC; Paul Schroeder of American Foundation of the Blind; Grant Seiffert of TIA; Dane Snowden of CTIA; Claude Stout of TDI; Karen Peltz Strauss of COAT; Jim Tobias of Inclusive Technologies; Gregg Vanderheiden of the Trace Center at University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Joe Waz on Comcast.
This event could never have happened without the engagement of so many people throughout the Commission. Moderators included Commissioner Copps; Sherrese Smith and Mary Beth Richards of the Chairman's office; Jennifer Schneider of Commissioner Copps' office; Erik Garr, General Manager of the Broadband Team; Workshop Coordinator and DRO Deputy Chief Cheryl King; Broadband Team members Elise Kohn, John Horrigan, Kristin Kane, Steve Midgley, Jing Vivatrat, and Kerry McDermott; Walter Johnston of OET (subbing for Chief Technologist Stagg Newman); and Jennifer Manner and Ronnie Cho of PSHSB. Official Government Observers included David Furth of PSHSB; Jane Jackson of WTB; Mark Stone and Cheryl King of CGB; and Terry Weaver of GSA. Finally, there were numerous people behind the scenes from CGB and DRO, the A-V team, and on the Broadband team policy staff who helped make the event run smoothly.
The input we've received is invaluable. We do have some follow up questions and will be soliciting further ex parte submissions in a separate blog post in the very near future. But for now, my three-minute buzzer has gone off!
We are now planning to have an expanded two-hour policy roundtable on policy solutions and recommendations at our October 20 workshop. We expect 15-20 stakeholders from the disability community, industry, academia, and government to have a high-level discussion of policy recommendations that should be included in the National Broadband Plan. Among other things, the roundtable will discuss whether additional legislative and regulatory action is needed to address accessibility and affordability challenges; what non-regulatory actions the FCC could or should take to promote accessibility to broadband by people with disabilities; and what actions other federal agencies, state, local and tribal governments, industry and industry consortia and other national and international industry/consumer/government consortia, the disability community, consumer groups, and other non-profits should take to promote broadband accessibility for people with disabilities.
Please give us your feedback on workshop planning issues (e.g., how to structure this roundtable, suggested questions and speakers, and helpful background reading material) and policy issues.
- What additional legislative and regulatory action is needed to address accessibility and affordability challenges?
- Should Congress require that the same kinds of accessibility regulations that have applied to telecommunications and media in the past be applied to broadband? How successful have these regulations been? Are there any differences between telecommunications/media accessibility and broadband accessibility which may affect whether regulation is effective and efficient?
- To what extent should captioning requirements be applied to Internet content, including user-generated content?
- What reforms should be made to the Interstate TRS Fund, particularly the funding of VRS? Should the Commission consider funding VRS equipment through a separate mechanism?
- Is there a mechanism in which the federal government could partner with state equipment distribution programs to ensure that there was a comprehensive broadband assistive technologies program in each state? Could universal service funds be used to supplement state funds for broadband assistive technologies? Under what circumstances should people with disabilities be eligible for universal service funds?
- What additional funds, including research funds, should Congress appropriate to promote access to broadband for people with disabilities?
- What actions are necessary to promote open standards and interoperability between broadband technologies and assistive technologies?
- What is the best mechanism to ensure that meaningful data about broadband usage by people with disabilities is collected and analyzed?
- What additional action should other agencies take relating to the implementation and enforcement of current laws? Should DOJ apply the provisions of the ADA to companies selling products on the Internet? Should the Department of Education do more to apply the protections of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to services that are provided over the Internet? Should the accessibility requirements that are applicable to the procurement of electronic and information technology by federal agencies be more broadly required?
- What legal and regulatory actions are needed to implement an "overarching accessibility principle"? How would an "Accessibility Impact Statement" be effectuated?
- What non-regulatory actions should the FCC take to promote the accessibility and affordability of broadband for people with disabilities? What kinds of outreach activities should the Commission engage in? Are there some broadband accessibility issues that may be better addressed in an interagency forum? When might it be appropriate for the Commission to facilitate consumer-industry agreements or participate in consumer-industry standards forums? Should the Commission make more information available to the public about the complaints it receives related to broadband accessibility?
- What non-regulatory actions are needed by other federal, state, local, and tribal agencies to promote accessibility to broadband by people with disabilities? Please provide more information about roles industry and industry consortia and other national and international industry/consumer/government consortia and standards setting groups can play and how effective these efforts are. What role can the disability community, consumer groups, and other non-profits play to promote and ensure accessibility?
- What other information, including information responsive to the more specific questions in the Public Notice do you think would help us better understand potential policy recommendations related to providing accessible and affordable broadband to people with disabilities?