It has been a very active few months of monitoring Congressional proceedings. As many of you know, a hearing concerning the Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act discussion draft was held on May 1 in front of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. As a founding member of the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT), ACB played a pivotal role in the drafting of the legislation and was honored to have Sergeant Major Jesse Acosta testify as part of the hearing.
The hearing was extremely compelling as celebrities representing the hearing loss community gave impassioned testimony regarding their daily challenges in working with everyday consumer electronics. Representatives from industry also gave their standard views on the proposed legislation, saying that they were already addressing many of the issues covered in the draft bill. But if industry had been doing its job, then there would not be a need for this comprehensive piece of legislation designed to expand access to Internet-enabled telephony, video programming through video description of emergency information and program content, availability of equipment for deaf-blind consumers, and the now largely inaccessible user interfaces employed by a wide variety of devices that receive and display video programming.
Acosta, who lost his sight in a mortar attack in Iraq two years ago, stole the show by giving his own personal examples of the inaccessibility of technology. In front of a packed hearing room, he was asked by a member if he had experienced an emergency alert on television since he had lost his sight. He responded by saying yes and then was silent for five seconds. He then said after the silence, "Ma'am, that's what it sounded like, like nothing." His passionate testimony was as moving to the members as it was for those seated in the audience.
Members from both parties expressed support for the draft legislation and agreed to establish a deadline to move this initiative forward. The one challenge that we face is industry's obvious fear of the private right of action and undue burden language that currently exists in the draft. Negotiations are ongoing with industry; this topic will be addressed.
I am confident that this hearing was a very productive and entertaining event that gave ACB, through Jesse Acosta, excellent visibility and credibility. This hearing took place because of the relentless grassroots efforts of ACB membership advocating for this draft legislation to their members of Congress. There is still much more to be done in order to pass this draft bill, but I am confident that we are moving in the right direction.
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