Monday, October 18, 2010

A New Disability Law

On October 8, President Barack Obama signed into law the Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 and Hearing Loss Association of America was there. HLAA has been working with COAT (Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology) to move this bill forward for several years. We provided input into the language of the bill, provided help by talking to legislators and urging our members to talk to legislators when the bill was being considered by Congress, we provided information to our Chapters to encourage them to join this coalition, and action alerts when it was being voted on. We did all that because we believed from the beginning that this legislation will help people with hearing loss get better access to the Internet. We believe that for as long as we did not succeed, consumers with hearing loss would be held back, that many of the great strides being made in emerging technology would not be accessible to us.

It was a happy day when the legislation passed both Houses of Congress and reached the desk of President Obama. HLAA was thrilled to be able to be part of the White House celebration with many of our friends who also supported the bill. Over 170 people took part in the ceremony that celebrated the 21st Century Accessibility Act and Rosa’s Law, signed earlier in the week for people with intellectual disabilities. It was a good day for people with disabilities. A few of the many pictures we took that day are here on this blog. You can see the whole album at

What does the Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 do for you?

It’s great to go to the White House, but what truly important is what this Act will do for people hearing and vision loss.

There are two sections that stand out for most people with hearing loss: the section requiring telephones that are used with the Internet to be hearing aid compatible; and the section that ensures that people with disabilities will have access to commercial video programming presented on the Internet. Under the new law, once a television program is published or exhibited on television with closed captions, any subsequent distribution of that programming on the Internet must include closed captions.

There is more to the law, including requirements for video description for people with vision loss. Here is a quick summary of some of the provisions:

• Requires telephones used with the Internet to be hearing aid compatible.

• Allocates up to $10 million per year from the Interstate Relay Service Fund for equipment used by individuals who are deaf-blind

• Restores FCC (Federal Communication Commission) rules requiring video description

• Requires devices designed to receive or play back video programming, using a picture screen of any size, to be capable of displaying closed captioning, delivering available video description, and making emergency information accessible to individuals who are blind or have low vision, except, devices with picture screens less than 13” must meet these requirements if achievable with reasonable effort or expense.

• Requires devices designed to record video programming (such as DVRs) to enable the rendering or pass through of closed captions, video description, and emergency information, so viewers can turn the closed captions and video description on/off when played back on a screen of any size.

• Requires devices designed to receive or play back video programming to provide access to built-in closed captioning and video description features through a mechanism that is reasonably comparable to a button, key, or icon designated for activating the closed captioning or accessibility features.

When does the new law take effect?
The law has different sections that take effect at different times. The law also provides for an Advisory Committee that will start up in April of 2011. A report of the Committee’s recommendations and findings on closed captioning is due October, 2011. The FCC is then directed to revise its regulations and adopt a phase-in schedule no later than six months after the Advisory Committee submits the closed captioning report. In short:

1. Advisory committee starts up 4/8/2011

2. Advisory committee report due 10/8/2011

3. Begin phase in of closed captioning for the Internet 4/8/2012

4. Equipment phase in (devices smaller than 13” to display captions, closed captioning buttons on remote control devices, video description decoding) between 4/2012 and 10/2012

It will take time for the law to be fully realized. But there is no question that in the future people with hearing loss and vision loss will have greater access to the Internet than ever before.

For more information about the Act and a more detailed summary of the sections of the Act, visit the COAT website at

(Photos, from top: Joe Gordon, NYC advocate with Brenda Battat, HLAA executive director and Lise Hamlin, HLAA director of public policy arrive at the White House for the celebration of the 21st Century Communications & Video Accessibility Act of 2010; Larry Goldberg, WGBH with Joe Gordon and a copy of the Act hot off the presses; President Barack Obama signs the 21st Century Communications & Video Accessibility Act)