July 21, 2000
Today, we will celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by continuing its tradition in telecommunications. On July 26, our nation will celebrate this landmark legislation.
Ten years ago, our nation made a commitment to breaking down physical barriers that barred people with disabilities from our nation's schools, jobs, and public facilities. In the ADA, we said that every American had an equal right to be able to ride buses with the assistance of wheelchair lifts, to communicate with their doctors through interpreters, to navigate hotel corridors with Braille and large type signage. And we said that every American who was deaf, hard of hearing, or speech disabled, could call their friends and relatives through relay services, 24 hours a day, every day of the week, without any restrictions.
When we look at the opportunities that have emerged across our nation over the past decade, we, as a nation, can see what the ADA has done. Indeed, all one need do is look around and see how the dismantling of physical barriers has enabled more Americans with disabilities to gain access to jobs, city services, public transportation, and public facilities.
But we also see that the world today is very different than the one that existed ten years ago. We see the jobs that once required physical access now requiring virtual access. We see the educational tools that were once contained in textbooks now contained on software and over the Internet. We see children once limited to board games now enthusiastically greeting the challenges of surfing the world's resources through the Web.
The ADA focused on the world made of bricks and mortar. But now we are presented with a different world - a world of networks, of fiber optics, a world of billions of digital bits that are becoming indispensable to our daily lives. And this world has presented the Commission with a unique challenge - a challenge to ensure that all Americans, including Americans with disabilities, have full and equal opportunities to access and enjoy this virtual world.
We can be proud that we have rules in place to require all telecommunications services and products to be accessible to all people with disabilities. Our rules also require nearly all television programming to be accessible through closed captions by 2006. As a result of our action this past April, individuals with hearing disabilities can also have the visual information they need to respond to emergencies when that information is provided through television programming. We can also be proud that our rules require all telephones manufactured or imported into the United States to be hearing aid compatible and have volume control. And that we have mandates in place to require wireless access for TTY users. In addition, this past winter we issued an Order to strengthen and improve our nation's telecommunications relay services. And just as important as all of the substantive changes we have made, we can be proud that we created the first Disabilities Rights Office in the history of the agency, so that issues concerning disability access will always have an institutional voice at the FCC.
It is only fitting that today, as we celebrate the ADA, we will consider additional Commission actions which are designed to expand even further access to the virtual world. Three of the agenda items before us today - access to relay services through a three digit numbering code, technical standards designed to facilitate the display of closed captioning on digital television receivers, and the provision of video description on television programming - seek to perpetuate the progress that we have made in breaking down virtual barriers.
As we celebrate the tenth anniversary of the ADA, we can be proud that the spirit of the ADA is alive in the Commission and that it will continue to flourish here at the FCC. Technology has the power to unleash access to jobs, education, and information in ways undreamed of ten years ago. And our challenge is to make sure that all Americans, regardless of ability, have equal opportunities to enjoy this access. The spirit of the ADA is not only alive today and on July 26, the actual ADA anniversary. The spirit of the ADA is alive in the Commission every day.