Disability campaigners welcome internet bill

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Using smartphones and the internet should become much easier for blind and deaf people, with the passing of a bill forcing providers to make their products more accessible.

New federal guidelines introduced in the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, signed by Barack Obama on Friday, call for improved interfaces on smartphones, captions and audible descriptions for television programs, and compatibility between hearing aids and internet phone services.

"The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act will make it easier for people who are deaf, blind or live with a visual impairment to do what many of us take for granted - from navigating a TV or DVD menu to sending an email on a smart phone," said Obama. 

"It sets new standards so that Americans with disabilities can take advantage of the technology our economy depends on.  And that’s especially important in today’s economy, when every worker needs the necessary skills to compete for the jobs of the future."

The legislation has been welcomed by disability rights groups.

"It will help Americans with disabilities work more productively, respond to emergencies more effectively, and participate even more in society and culture," said Mark Richert, director of public policy at the American Foundation for the Blind.

"The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act... will enable 36 million deaf and hard of hearing people to participate in the internet age by ensuring captioning of television programs on the Internet, a closed caption button on television remote controls, hearing aid compatibility for internet telephones, and communications equipment for individuals who are deaf-blind," said Bobbie Beth Scoggins, president of the national Association of the Deaf.

"While we fell short in some areas, such as requiring web TV episodes distributed only on the internet to be captioned, this is a step in the right direction."