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Remarks of William E. Kennard
Saturday, December 5, 1998
Telecommunications for the Deaf, Inc. Gala
Gallaudet University, Washington, D.C.
(As prepared for delivery)

Thank you, Claude, and TDI, for this prestigious award. I want to thank you, Claude, in particular, for the support, leadership and guidance you have provided me and my staff. And, thank you TDI, for 30 years of leadership on telecommunications access for all Americans, including the 54 million Americans with disabilities.

When I was appointed Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission one year ago, I pledged to support the three Cs - competition, common sense and community. As I look at all of you tonight, leaders in telecommunications access, people of all colors, creeds, abilities -- even languages -- I think that it is appropriate that we talk about community.

One of my favorite anecdotes of community in our nation's history, and I know this is one near and dear to your hearts, is the Martha's Vineyard story. Between the late 1600's and the early 1900's -- the community of Martha's Vineyard embraced diversity and inclusiveness. There was a high prevalence of deafness on the island, and in order for the community to function, everyone "spoke" sign language. Without a communication barrier, everyone could participate in the society. Even the Mayor of the island was deaf. During these years, hearing people often used sign language even when there was no deaf person present. For example, hearing fishermen found that sign language was the only way they could communicate with each other on the large ships, because of the Atlantic's loud winds. The people of Martha's Vineyard insisted on communication accessibility. Everyone was included.

We need to see more of that passion for accessibility and inclusion today.

And here we are, in this beautiful conference center, at our nation's historic Gallaudet University, celebrating TDI's 30th anniversary. All anniversaries compel us to look at the past on anniversaries. And when I think about how far we've come in the past, 30 years and compare it with today -- we've come a long way, baby! I hope to have a chance while I'm here to tour the Lee Brody TTY Museum. I have heard stories of the old TTY's, like the Model 28 and the Lorenz, that would come up to my waist, and weigh 500 pounds. Does anyone remember those dinosaurs? However, as large and cumbersome as they were, they still provided you much needed access to telecommunications. And they are a part of your heritage that I deeply respect.

Anniversaries are also times to look forward, set goals and dream of the future. I am here tonight to reaffirm my commitment to telecommunications access and equality. As long as I am Chairman of the FCC, I promise to emulate the community of Martha's Vineyard where all ways of communication are welcome and encouraged.

I do have expectations for accessibility and the future. The telecommunications industry is in the midst of a great revolution. It is a revolution that promises to allow us to communicate anytime, anyplace, in any mode -- voice, data, image, video, and multimedia. It includes using intelligent, programmable wireline and wireless networks and associated end user equipment. One can envision two possible outcomes from such a revolution.

On the one hand, properly harnessed, these networks and devices create a potent platform upon which to serve the needs of all of our citizens, including those with disabilities. They create new and expanded opportunities for accessibility and inclusiveness. On the other hand, if these powerful new platforms are not designed, developed and fabricated to be accessible to -- and usable by -- individuals with disabilities, then, as they evolve, people with disabilities will become isolated rather than empowered.

I am here tonight to reaffirm my personal commitment to making sure that it is the former outcome that is achieved. I expect that -- nay, I will insist that -- as the technology is designed and developed, accessibility will be an integral part of that process. In that way, peoples with disabilities will be included rather than isolated and empowered rather than marginalized.

This TDI Expo, Meeting the Communications Challenge, is a celebration of the proliferation of all the technologies that we use every day -- captioning, telephones, pagers, TTY's, video telephony, relay services. I want to commend consumers and industry for their participation at the Expo. I would like to see more opportunities like this -- where the disability community and industry can have meaningful dialogue and interaction on technologies and accessibility.

We have a long road ahead before we reach full accessibility. To meet the communications challenge, I need your help. Please continue to participate in our processes. Continue to tell me what you need to have full accessibility and equality. Continue to hold TDI Expo's where consumers and industry communicate on technology and accessibility. Together, as a community, we can and will succeed.

Thank you.