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Digital Inclusion

With Anniversary Awards, FCC Recognizes Role of Communications Technology for People With Disabilities

Liana Sowa

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Photo from Ajit Pai's FCC Twitter account

October 13, 2020 – Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on Thursday recognized Karen Peltz Strauss, Claude Stout, Tom Wlodkowski at an awards ceremony on the tenth anniversary of the Communications and Video Accessibility Act.

“Democracy is not a state–it is an act,” declared Pai, stating that those awarded acted to “bring us closer to the goal of full inclusion” of disabled persons into the technology mainstream. The FCC decided to focus in on individuals who have made contributions to accessibility.

Strauss, a previous FCC staffer, wrote landmark accessibility legislation, led a coalition of over 300 national and regional organizations, and was involved in Sections 255 and 305 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, as well as Title IV of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Circuitry Act of 1990 (which requires televisions to display closed captions), and the CVAA.

“Karen has made it such that to be credible in the marketplace you have to be involved in accessibility,” said Pai.

Stout advocated for deaf and hard of hearing for 23 years and for equal access to telecommunications for those with disabilities for 18 years. He helped develop the CVAA, and was been a part of various organizations including the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology.

For 30 years, Wlodkowski advocated for people with disabilities and broadband connectivity. He worked with the WGBH media access group, which oversees the Descriptive Video Service, Caption Center, and the National Center for Accessible Media.

“New technology offers so much promise for those with disabilities,” said Pai.

The CVAA has allowed deaf blind community to have full accessibility to services like Netflix, explained Isidore Niyongabo, co-chair of the Disability Advisory Committee.

Brian Scarpelli, the other co-chair of the Disability Advisory Committee, attributed the industry’s progress to the fact that disability regulations have been stated as goals as opposed to directives. This has allowed the industry the freedom to innovate.

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