There’s an important hearing going on today regarding the “Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2009” (HR 3101), which would update communications laws to “help ensure that individuals with vision, hearing, and other disabilities are able to utilize fully broadband services and equipment and better access video programming devices.”
From the testimony of Jesse R. Acosta, United States Army (Retired), American Council of the Blind:
“H.R. 3101…would require that mobile and other internet-based telecommunications devices have accessible user interfaces and offer people who are blind or visually impaired access to a full range of text messaging and other heavily utilized services that are currently largely inaccessible to us. […]
We are asking you also to reinstate the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) regulations for video description that were struck down by the U.S. Court of Appeals in 2002. And we are asking you to expand those rules in two ways. First, to ensure that video description services are transmitted and provided over digital TV technologies, since the previous set of regulations was for analog television only. Those of us who are blind or visually impaired want to be sure we can hear the video description when we watch our favorite TV shows. In fact, we are also asking you to give some authority to the FCC to require video description for more than the simple four hours per week of programming that the old analog rules required. People who are blind or visually impaired watch more than four hours of television a week!
Second, and even more importantly, we are asking you to require that non-visual access to on-screen emergency warnings and similar televised information is also video described so that we too can know where to go in emergencies, what phone numbers to call and what websites to visit. […]
It is imperative that Congress ensure that people who are blind or visually impaired – including the rapidly growing population of senior citizens who are losing their vision – are not left behind as television technologies move more to digital and Internet-based technologies.”
Read the other testimonies and (supposedly? maybe) watch a live stream of the hearing on the website of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet. (the live stream didn’t work for me but the downloadable WMV file did. Stuff gets intense at 1:16:00).
Also, a related bill has been introduced in the Senate: S.3304 – “Equal Access to 21st Century Communications Act”. (Sponsor Sen Pryor, Mark L. [AR])
Update: I found this site – opencongress.org – where you can sign up for alerts that make it easier to track bills (I didn’t know of any way other than repeatedly looking them up in Thomas?). There’s RSS feeds and email options, along with links to related bills and “issues”, newspaper articles on the bills, and users of the site vote to show if they support the bill or not. Interesting. Here’s the page for H.R.3101.