WASHINGTON, November 9, 2009 – Panelists at a Federal Communications Commission field hearing on Friday agreed that there should be a national broadband plan that made high-speed internet connections accessible to everyone, including those with hearing, visual and other disabilities.
“A national broadband plan is not national if not accessible to everyone,” said Michael Richert, director of public policy for the American Foundation for the Blind.
Thus far, people with hearing or visual disabilities have been limited to the resources that are offered to those without disabilities. And those have been inadequate to meet the special needs of people with disabilities, panelists said.
FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said that soon after he first became a commissioner in 2001, he went to speak in Sioux Falls, S.D. The unemployment of the hearing disabled community was at 75 percent, he said.
“Broadband can impact education and the environment of the people with disabilities,” said Jay Wyant, president of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
With the speed increase that broadband offers vis-à-vis dial-up services, and with appropriate technology, people with disabilities are able to work from home and attend class at home. That can be useful when there are no educational facilities adaptable to students with disabilities.
However, the issue of getting the technology is not the only challenge that needs to be overcome. Educating the people using the technology is another problem.
“It is a huge issue,” said Wyant. “Parents of deaf children have no background in hearing loss.” Creating easy-to-use pieces of technology will therefore benefit both the disabled person as well as the person’s family.
“People, not just those with disabilities, but everyone, needs broadband to look for jobs and the digital literacy to do so,” said Janis Kohe, vice president of employment services division of the Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation of Kansas.
According to Alan Hubbard, chief operating officer of the National Telecommuting Institute, there are around 120 agents with disabilities working from home and without broadband they would not be able to do their job and probably would not have their jobs.
Another way that broadband could be of benefit to those with hearing or visual disabilities, as well as other consumers, is the affect that broadband is going to have on enhance 911 services, or E911.
According to Patrick Halley, government affairs director of the National Emergency Number Association, an internet protocol-based E911 service could be more accessible for those with disabilities, by creating a text-based communication as well as video connections.
With broadband, a video connection could be made with a person who has a hearing disability, and an interpreter would be able to give them instructions of what to over the video connection.
“IP-based 911 will be accessible to everyone,” said Halley.” Through this people will be able text, send video, images, photos to the emergency center,” he said. “It will be beneficial to everyone in the system.”
“People with disabilities cannot afford second class technology,” said Karen Peltz Strauss, co-chair of the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology.
While at the same time, according to Ari Ne’eman, founding president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, affordability has to be kept in mind considering where these people are coming from.