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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. HARKIN. Mr. President, today marks the 25th anniversary of the appointment of Gallaudet University's first Deaf president, Dr. I. King Jordan. This historic appointment, the product of the ``Deaf President Now'' student protests, was truly a catalyzing moment--a moment to establish dignity--for the Deaf community. As President Jordan stated in his acceptance speech, the Deaf community would ``no longer accept limits on what we can achieve.''

Deaf President Now was significant not only for the Deaf community, but it also showed other Americans what Deaf individuals are capable of. We saw the rights of the Deaf community brought to the forefront. And the Deaf President Now movement, with the active involvement of the Deaf community, helped lead to passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act 2 years later, in 1990.

The Americans with Disabilities Act is one of the landmark civil rights laws of the 20th century--a long-overdue emancipation proclamation for Americans with disabilities. The ADA has played a huge role in making our country more accessible, in raising the expectations of people with disabilities about what they can hope to achieve at work and in life, and in inspiring all of us to view disability issues through the lens of equality and opportunity.

Before the ADA, life was very different for folks with disabilities. Being an American with a disability meant not being able to ride on a bus because there was no lift, not being able to attend a concert or ballgame because there was no accessible seating, and not being able to cross the street in a wheelchair because there were no curb cuts. In short, it meant not being able to work or participate in community life. Discrimination was both commonplace and accepted.

Since then, we have seen amazing progress. The ADA literally transformed the American landscape by requiring that architectural barriers be removed and replaced with accessible features such as ramps, lifts, curb cuts, widening doorways, and closed captioning. More importantly, the ADA gave millions of Americans the opportunity to participate in their communities. We have made substantial progress in advancing the four goals of the ADA--equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency.

But despite this progress, we still have more work to do. Although most television and home videos contain captioning for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing--or the rest of us--most movie theaters do not. Thus millions of Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing are not able to attend a movie with their families or friends, at a time and location that they want, simply because captioning is not available. The same is true for individuals who are blind or visually impaired; most movie theaters do not provide access to video description technology, which would allow these individuals to have access to the key elements of a motion picture by contemporaneous audio narrated descriptions during the natural pauses in the audio portion of the programming, usually through headphones.

A similar problem occurs in airplanes, with respect to in-flight entertainment. Many airlines are now providing in-flight entertainment for their passengers--but individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing cannot access it, because the overwhelming majority of this programming does not have captioning. Individuals who are blind or visually impaired are similarly excluded, since video description is not provided for such programming either.

So we have a situation where an individual, in his own home, can usually access captioning or similar technology on his television when watching live television, or a television show, or a movie. Such captioning is often available in other venues, such as restaurants and sports bars. I do not believe that it would be difficult to provide the same technology access for individuals with disabilities in movie theaters or on airplanes. This would allow these Americans with disabilities to have the same access as everyone else.

Today I am introducing two bills. These bills will allow Americans with visual or hearing impairments to enjoy going to the movies and watching in-flight entertainment, through captioning and video description, just as they can at home.

The first S. 555, entitled the Captioning and Image Narration to Enhance Movie Accessibility, CINEMA, Act, would amend Title III of the ADA to require movie theater complexes of two or more theaters to make captioning and video description available for all films at all showings.

The second, S. 556, entitled the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act, would require air carriers to make captioning and video description available for visually-displayed entertainment programming--live televised events, recorded programming, and motion pictures--that is available in-flight for passengers. In instances where the programming is only available through the use of an individual touchscreen or other contact-sensitive controls, the bill would authorize the U.S. Access Board to develop accessibility standards so that individuals with disabilities can operate the displays independently.

I look forward to working with my fellow members to pass these two bills and ensure that individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, or who are blind or visually impaired, can have the same access to movies and in-flight entertainment as other Americans.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the Record.


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