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Mr. BOUCHER. Madam Speaker, today the House takes up a very important measure introduced by our colleague Mr. MARKEY that seeks to update the laws governing access to communications services by individuals with disabilities. Floor consideration of this measure marks the end of two years of effort by the gentleman from Massachusetts, and I commend him for his dedication to this critical issue.
I would also like to recognize the gentleman from Rhode Island, Mr. LANGEVIN, who is presiding over the House of Representatives for the first time today. Mr. LANGEVIN co-chairs the Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus and has been a champion of efforts to make the Capitol complex, including the Speaker's rostrum, accessible. It is therefore fitting that he is in the Chair as we consider this bipartisan, historic measure to make much needed updates to our communications laws.
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is a significant milestone, and we have come a long way in the two decades since 1990.
We have also seen significant technological change since Congress enacted the ADA, including the emergence of the Internet as a core communications infrastructure; the daily use by many Americans of email, text messaging and video conferencing both at home and at work; and increasing use of the Internet to view video programming.
It is therefore timely to update our communications laws to ensure that new technologies are accessible to individuals with visual or hearing impairments.
As we learned at a legislative hearing before the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet on this measure last this month, there are close to one million Americans who have severe or profound hearing loss and more than one million who are legally blind. Four percent of our population has great difficulty hearing, and an additional three percent are visually impaired.
Moreover, as much as some of us might not want to admit it, Americans are aging. There are approximately 40 million people over the age of 65 living in the United States today, or 13 percent of the population. One estimate shows that by 2050, that number will more than double to 88.5 million, or an estimated one-fifth of the population. Naturally, this growth will be accompanied by an increase in the number of Americans who are vision or hearing-impaired and who will need accessible communications products and services.
With the explosion in Internet-delivered services, both the variety of information and entertainment offerings and the complexity and variety of the devices that receive those services have multiplied. Our challenge is to assure that all Americans can benefit from those advances, including individuals with vision or hearing impairments.
The measure we take up today:
Requires that advanced communications services, including voice over Internet protocol, electronic messaging and video conferencing services, are accessible to the disabled if doing so is achievable.
Sets forth a list of factors the Federal Communications Commission shall consider to determine if making a product or service accessible is achievable, including whether the manufacturer or service provider makes available a range of accessible products with varying functionality and offered at different price points. A manufacturer or service provider may make a product accessible either by embedding accessibility in the device or relying on third-party applications that are available to consumers at nominal cost. To avoid stifling innovation, H.R. 3101 also allows the Commission to waive the accessibility requirements for small entities.
Requires the closed captioning of video programming on the Internet that has been displayed on television.
Reinstates Commission regulations regarding the provision of video described video programming that were previously invalidated by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on jurisdictional grounds and allows for future expansion of the video description requirements.
Requires that emergency information, such as screen crawls, be made accessible to persons with disabilities.
Ensures that Internet browsers on smart phones enable the disabled to navigate the Internet, if doing so is achievable.
Ensures that the Commission does not, in implementing the requirements of the Act, mandate the use of any technology that might result in one entity unfairly profiting from such a mandate or requirement.
These and other provisions in this measure will help ensure that persons with disabilities are not left behind as communications technology continues to advance.
I appreciate all of the stakeholders who have been working diligently with myself, Chairman WAXMAN, Mr. MARKEY, Ranking Members BARTON and STEARNS and our staffs on a bipartisan basis to reach consensus on this measure. I look forward to our continued work together to promote accessibility and innovation, as well as to House passage of this historic legislation.
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