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Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20554
News media information 202 / 418-0500
Fax-On-Demand 202 / 418-2830
Internet: http://www.fcc.gov
TTY: 202/418-2555

This is an unofficial announcement of Commission action. Release of the full text of a Commission order constitutes official action. See MCI v. FCC. 515 F 2d 385 (D.C. Circ 1974).

July 26, 1999

Linda Paris (202) 418- 7121 and Audrey Spivack (202) 418-0500

Statement of FCC Chairman William Kennard
Employment Panel White House Forum on Disability and Cultural Diversity

I am delighted to participate in today's important White House initiative to take stock of the role that members of the disability community are playing in the working world, the progress that has been made, and what more needs to be done.

I believe it is particularly important to focus these questions on what is perhaps the fastest growing segment of the economy both now and in the future telecommunications.

The telecommunications segment has tremendous potential to employ some of the 15 million people with disabilities who are of working age, and who want to work, but are unemployed. And, accessible telecommunications can permit people with disabilities to be employed in a variety of fields, because they will have the telecommunications tools that are essential to almost any job.

The FCC is doing all it can to ensure that the new economy, an economy already defined by technology, is also defined as an economy with the ability to unlock the potential of Americans with disabilities. There are 54 million Americans with a disability of some kind. We can all agree that every American deserves the chance to seize the opportunities of the Information Age. However, for the 26 million people with severe disabilities, unemployment is an even more serious problem, and hovers at a staggering 73 percent. In all areas of the economy, our challenge is to focus on how to lower these unemployment numbers.

On this ninth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, let us make sure that the telecommunications revolution is reaching those who have historically been separated from common channels of communications and participation, such as people with disabilities and those from diverse cultural backgrounds. We cannot allow a digital divide to create information 'haves' and 'have nots' based on minority or disability status, or a combination of both.

The FCC just completed a historic rulemaking under Section 255 of the Communications Act to require manufacturers and service providers to ensure that telecommunications products and services are accessible to people with disabilities, if readily achievable. Our action is the most important action for people with disabilities since passage of the ADA; in fact, this is the ADA for the Information Age.

Recently, I have been asked a number of times how much it will cost the economy to make sure that telecommunications is accessible to Americans with disabilities. My answer has been: if you want to talk about cost, think about the cost to our economy if we don't take steps to make sure that all members of our society can access telecommunications - the costs to our productivity; the wasted potential; the loss to our society.

It makes no sense to invest billions of dollars to construct a grand new digital infrastructure for a high-tech economy if all Americans can't access these networks or use these wonderful new devices. The cost of not making telecommunications accessible that is what we cannot afford.

- FCC -