Text | WordPerfect

Speech by
William E. Kennard, Chairman
Federal Communications Commission
before the
Telecommunications for the Deaf, Inc. Convention
Seattle, WA,
July 15, 1999
(as prepared for delivery)

"Defining Vision"

Thank you, Claude, for that generous introduction.

You know, Claude has been a tireless advocate on behalf of the disability community for his entire professional career.

And I want you all to know that I feel very fortunate to be able to draw on his experience. Claude is a constant help to the FCC and a trusted ally. He is serving you - and all of us - well. Congratulations, Claude, on another terrific TDI conference.

I also want to thank Roy Miller and all of you at TDI for inviting me to your convention. I not only get to see, at one time, friends like Pam Holmes, Judy Harkins, and other TDI board members, but I get a chance to make a pilgrimage to Seattle -- the place that has perfected a product that is indispensable to my job and the functioning of the FCC, indeed, to our whole economy. No, Sam, it's not Windows; it's coffee.

I was just in Europe at a conference, and there I heard a wonderful story about the construction of one of the great buildings of that continent: St. Paul's Cathedral in London.

One day while it was being built, an inspector from the King went to the site. He approached one of the workers and asked, "What are you doing?"

"I'm cutting stone," he replied.

Then he asked another worker, "What are you doing?"

"I'm making 5 shillings, 2 pence a day," he said.

Then, he asked a third worker, "What are you doing?"

The man put down his chisel and said, "I'm helping Sir Christopher Wren build a magnificent cathedral."

Now, all three of these men had the same job, but only the last man had vision. He could see beyond the slabs of stone and see the soaring nave and the resplendent dome of the cathedral.

In our lives and in our jobs, sometimes it's hard for us to stay focused on the larger vision, to rise above the mundane, above the day-to-day. In the last century, Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Gallaudet had that vision, one that has benefited us all - deaf, capital D-deaf, hard-of-hearing, late-deafened, and hearing alike.

In my own work, I too sometimes get caught up in the details. I go to the meetings, read the briefs and reports, and talk to the reporters. But there are times in this job when the big picture is as clear as day, when I feel truly connected to issues and ideas much larger than myself, larger than any job, larger than any government agency.

Those are the moments when the vision is so very clear. And yesterday was such a day.

Yesterday, the FCC passed rules implementing section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

We said that telecom manufacturers and providers would now have to design their products and services so that they are accessible to people with disabilities.

We said that from now on, 54 million Americans with disabilities must have access to the wondrous benefits of telecommunications technology.

We said barriers will no longer be tolerated.

We said this must be part of our national policy.

We said that people who are deaf and hard of hearing can no longer be denied access to telecommunications anytime, anywhere, or anyhow. And that includes voice mail and interactive menus.

Friends, yesterday, we built the first curb-cut on the Information Superhighway.

We said that not only do these products have to be accessible to you, but they also have to serve you in accessible ways. That means not only that you must have access to the product, but also access to information about the product that is useful and meaningful to you -- whether it be in Braille, over the TTY or in ASCII text.

Access to products. Access to information about products. Access to the choices that every American wants, needs and deserves. That's what 255 is all about.

Yesterday was one of the finest moments in the FCC's history. And I feel very proud, and very privileged to be here with you today, as Chairman of the FCC -- the Federal Captioning Commission. Whoops, sorry. I got a little carried away with myself. I feel very proud to here as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

But I also feel very humble. Because I am here today with the people who truly made yesterday possible.

So I came here to thank all of you. You are the heroes here. You and people throughout the disability community created a movement to push for equal rights and opportunities for those with disabilities.

You pushed, and you lobbied. You protested, and you persisted. And you made the ADA a reality, and then you made Section 255 possible - the ADA for the Information Age.

As my friend and colleague FCC Commissioner Michael Powell said yesterday, we see a lot of lobbyists at the FCC. Many of them are paid a lot of money to lobby the FCC. But few are as persuasive and powerful as the disability community. Not because you get paid lots of money to lobby, but because of the power of your ideas, your tenacity, your courage.

And like all of the great reformers of American history, you have vision. You envision an America that lives up to its promise of equal opportunity for all.

So I thank you. Thank you for writing a new chapter in our great nation's struggle for civil rights - a chapter that joins those written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the great James Farmer who passed away this week.

What these people taught us is that any great movement is the sum of many parts.

The FCC's accomplishment yesterday would not have been possible without your work with Congress in getting Section 255 enacted into law.

The FCC's accomplishment yesterday would not have been possible without the extraordinary work of the Access Board which literally wrote the blueprint for the rules that we adopted yesterday.

The FCC's accomplishment yesterday would not have been possible without those members of the industry who understood what access is all about and worked in partnership with us and the disability community, like the Personal Communications Industry Association and Nokia.

It couldn't have happened without the many individuals within industry organizations, like Laura Ruby at AT&T Wireless, Rich Ellis at Bell Atlantic, Mary Brooner at Motorola and Michael Patrick at Pacific Telesis, who push and cajole every day.

And the FCC's accomplishment would not have been possible without the tenacity and commitment of public servants at the FCC who worked tirelessly to write the new rules. Ellen Blackler, Dale Hatfield, Elizabeth Lyle, Andy Firth, and especially Meryl Icove and Pam Gregory.

But, of course, none of this would have been possible without the courage and commitment of the thousands of Americans with disabilities around the country who educated us -- who told us about how their lives would be made better if only telecommunications technology were accessible to them.

Like the woman in California who is hard of hearing. She wrote to tell us that the interactive menus that many companies use don't make her life easier; it makes her life more frustrating. She wrote: "On most occasions, I give up before a call can be completed."

Like the woman from Indiana who wrote to tell us about the difficulty she had in finding a cellular phone that can be turned loud enough or work with her hearing aid.

Like the woman from Texas who is deaf and wrote to tell us how she could never find the TRS number when she is travelling on business.

You know, every time we make a telecommunications service accessible, it's like opening up a door of opportunity -- unlocking our country's greatest asset -- the potential of our people.

Last week, President Clinton traveled throughout the country highlighting the untapped potential here at home.

He wanted to show America that there are places all over the nation -- in Appalachia, in our inner cities, and on Indian reservations -- that have not yet been touched by the amazing prosperity in our Nation today. He wanted to show us that these places can -- and should -- be the emerging new markets of our economy.

But let us not forget that our country's untapped markets are not just defined by geography. Americans with disabilities reside in every state, every city, every town, on every street, and in 20 percent of our homes.

And today, telecommunications is the key to unlocking the potential of that community like never before.

There are 15 million Americans with disabilities who want to work. But too many of them can't use the communications tools that are essential to almost any job. They want to pay taxes. They want to be independent. They want to fully join our national community.

There are 26 million Americans with severe disabilities. Seventy-three percent of them are unemployed. And those who work earn on average one-third the income of those without disabilities.

Let's unlock that potential. And let's use the power of technology to do it. We must 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.

Imagine how our economy will benefit.

By the middle of the next century, 35 percent of the US population will be over 55, and at least one-third of them will have some sort of disability -- some trouble hearing, seeing or moving. In fact, in what may be a sign of the future, even our nation's first baby-boomer president has a hearing aid.

Over the past few days, some reporters have asked me about our new Section 255 rules. They want to know how much it will cost the economy to make sure that telecommunications is accessible to Americans with disabilities.

Here's what I've been telling them. I say, 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.

Think about that. Think about the costs to our productivity. Think about the wasted potential. Think about the loss to our society. So when the reporters ask me about cost, I say, think for a moment about the cost of not making telecommunications accessible. And then I tell them we can't afford not to do this.

What is the point of investing 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 gadgets?

The time to build this inclusiveness is now. We have accomplished much already, but there is so much more to be done.

Our new Section 255 rules are significant steps. But Dave Bolnick of Microsoft said something very important when he appeared before the FCC yesterday. He said, writing rules is important, but this is not just about writing rules; it's about changing attitudes -- changing the culture.

We have to change the culture of the manufacturing community so that accessibility issues are dealt with in the design phase.

Recently we saw the importance of this in the wireless industry. Many in the industry said that they couldn't make digital phones compatible with TTYs. We told them that they could, and that they must. Now, Lucent Technologies and other companies say that they can do it and do it simply -- and they can do it during the design phase.

Accessibility has to become a part of the design culture. It has to become second nature to the people who design these products. Our telecommunications industry is the one of the most innovative and creative industries the world has ever known. You give these brilliant engineers a problem and they will solve it.

And we have to create a culture of cooperation among the manufacturing community, the disability community, and the FCC. We need each other. I am pleased to see that culture of cooperation developing and I plan to do everything I can to nurture it.

But if cooperation breaks down, we have to be prepared to deal with that too. So we have to change the culture of enforcement at the FCC. If you write a rule, you have to muster the resources and the will to enforce it. I plan to do that. We are creating a new Enforcement Bureau at the FCC to change the whole culture of enforcement. And I will make enforcement of Section 255 an enforcement priority.

And finally, we must embrace a culture of change. We must recognize that our work in this area is never done. As this dynamic industry changes, we must change with it. The accessibility movement must keep up with the pace of change.

That's why yesterday we kicked off a proceeding to study how the development of Internet telephony will impact accessibility.

That's why yesterday we also proposed new rules to make sure that as we look to the future, the world of digital television will also be a world of digital closed captioning. With digital television, viewers of closed captioning will be able to choose the font, size, color, location and placement of the captions.

That's why we have a proceeding underway to improve the TRS system to make sure that TRS is the very best it can be; and a proceeding to adopt 711 numbers for TRS.

And that's why I am working everyday to speed the deployment of high-speed Internet access. I believe that broadband technology will introduce a whole new horizon of opportunity for the use of video relay interpreting. It's a wonderful opportunity that lies ahead.

But we have to keep moving. We have to embrace change.

And we have to keep fighting.

As Chairman of the FCC, I have the opportunity to work on the most important networks of the our time: the communications networks that are the foundation of the Information Age. Sometimes I think about my grandfather's career. My grandfather, James Kennard, worked on the network that formed the foundation of the Industrial Age. He worked on the railroads.

But he wasn't a CEO or a government official. He was a Pullman porter, the best job that a black man could have in the railroad in those days. My grandfather was a brilliant man. He was a learned man. He could quote everything from the Bible to Shakespeare, and he was completely self-taught.

But he could ride the rails for years but go nowhere. He could be a part of the most important industrial network of his time, but only if he kept his place at the bottom as the guy who carried the bags.

Tired of life on the road, my grandfather moved his young family to a place called Monrovia, California. Out on what was still the frontier of America, he believed that he could escape the prejudice that he faced on the railroad and during his entire life.

But then he came up against another impenetrable network, the public schools. In Monrovia, there wasn't Jim Crow, but there was an understanding: the black children would go to one school; the white children to another. The black school was across town. The white one was a few blocks away.

And so when his son -- my father -- was about five years old, James Kennard dressed the boy up and sent him off to the neighborhood school.

They sent my dad home. "You go to the Negro school," the principal said.

The next day, my grandfather dressed my father up again -- and sent him to the white school. Again, they sent him home.

"This is where you belong," my grandfather said. So he took my dad back again. And again. And finally, that principal relented. He said, "Okay. We'll take the Kennard boy."

My grandfather taught his son how to knock down barriers to opportunity. My father learned those lessons, becoming an architect; sending his son to college and then to law school. I'm here today because my grandfather taught my father to force open the doors of opportunity when they appeared to be shut.

Well, my father told me and my two sisters this story hundreds of times when we were growing up. And the moral of the story always went something like this: if you know you are right and you keep on fighting, you will prevail in the end. You may not win tomorrow or the next day. But you hang in there, and you will prevail. Just keep your eye on the prize.

Like the stone mason who never lost sight of the cathedral, we must always keep our vision for the future in sharp focus: a nation in which all Americans can enjoy the benefits of the most important networks of our time.

We know that this is the right vision for America. If we keep up the fight, if this community, industry, and government all work together, then everybody wins.

And that is a victory that I hope to share with you. For I pledge, that as long as I am Chairman of the FCC, I will be right by your side.

Thank you.