During December and January, legislative and regulatory activity at the intersection of disability and technology access addressed several topics, including broadband access, hearing aid compatibility, employment, emergency communications, IT standards, and community integration. Regarding the latter, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) introduced the Disability Integration Act of 2015 [S.2427] to make unlawful, discrimination against people with disabilities that keeps them isolated from their communities. Among other things, S.2427 addresses de-institutionalization, housing, employment, community-based long-term service or support and state planning. In a concerted effort to advance progress on the Department of Justice’s Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Accessible ICT standards, nine senators signed a letter urging the U.S. Office of Management and Budget to complete their review so that the ICT standards can be revised to reflect advances in technology.
In the regulatory arena, the FCC was also concerned with updating standards with their proposed amendments to the hearing aid compatibility (HAC) rules. The goal is to increase the clarity and usability of telecommunications equipment for people who use hearing aids or cochlear implants. The FCC also released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) concerning the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs). The proposed changes are intended to increase their effectiveness at prompting the public to take the appropriate protective actions.
Protecting people with disabilities’ rights to work in the community, the U.S. Department of Justice signed a settlement agreement which addressed transitioning people with intellectual and development disabilities out of sheltered work environments into integrated employment. Employers that embrace the use of accessible and assistive technologies in the workplace and have corresponding policies regarding the same will be in a good position to receive these candidates that were formerly in sheltered work environments.
In Wireless RERC news, in collaboration with Georgia Tech’s Center for Advanced Communications Policy (CACP), the Wireless RERC added their expertise to support several of the proposed enhancements to the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system. Wireless RERC and CACP research on the accessibility of WEA messages for people with disabilities provided empirical data in support of recommendations to increase the character limitation, lift the prohibition on the inclusion of URLs and dialable numbers in WEA messages, and to require more precise geotargeting of WEA messages.