Markey introduces legislation to improve tech access for Americans with disabilities

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Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) on Thursday introduced new legislation that aims to improve access to communications technology for Americans with disabilities to ensure they have equal opportunities in an increasingly online world.

The Communications, Video, and Technology Accessibility Act (CVTA) will update policies for television programming and online video streaming platforms.

Markey, a member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, said the disabled, including the deaf and blind, face barriers in accessing essential online communication and video tools because policies have not evolved with technology.

“What hasn’t changed is our obligation to make sure that everyone – including people who are deaf, blind, or DeafBlind – has equal access to the services and technologies they need to thrive,” said Markey in a statement, adding the bill will “update current laws on the books so that we can meet the technological moment and ensure opportunity, independence, and equal access for all.”

The senator introduced the CVTA along with his colleague in the House, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Conn.), who sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Eshoo said that “technology has rapidly evolved over the last two decades” but “much of our economy and day-to-day lives have moved online.”

“Unfortunately, accessibility standards have stayed largely the same, leaving people with disabilities behind,” Eshoo said in a statement.

Markey authored the 2010 law the Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which includes a host of rules to ensure those with disabilities can access telecommunications and video programming services.

But today, the majority of video programming does not include audio descriptions that would help for those who are blind or have low vision, according to Markey’s office. And there are consistent inaccuracies in closed captioning that does exist.

Deaf individuals who use sign language also face significant barriers to access emergency services, do their jobs at work or study at school in a world where so much is accessed online and through digital services.

In 2020, 38 percent of individuals who were blind or had low vision struggled with at least one of the technologies needed at work, and 2021, about 70 percent of students who are deaf or hard of hearing reported technological challenges in their educational environment, according to Eshoo.

The new CVTA will improve and expand closed captioning and audio description standards for television and video streaming platforms and empower the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ensure regulations keep pace with emerging technologies, among other requirements.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement that “promoting accessible technology is an important part of our agency’s mission.”

“To do so effectively we need to keep up with emerging technologies,” she added.

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