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Recap of FCC Broadband Accessibility Workshop II


On October 20, the Federal Communications Commission held a National Broadband Plan workshop focused accessibility issues for people with disabilities.

In the first panel, Leveraging Federal and State Resources to make Broadband Accessible and Affordable, we heard about the efforts of Department of Commerce/NTIA, Department of Agriculture/RUS, the Department of Education, the Department of Labor, the Government Services Administration, and the State of Missouri (from Danny Weitzner, Gary Boles, Jennifer Sheehy, Richard Horne, Terry Weaver, and Marty Exline, respectively) to support broadband access for people with disabilities. While each agency is clearly making an important contribution, the daunting task before us is to figure out how we can better coordinate our efforts at the tribal, local, state, federal, and international levels.

In the second panel, we heard consumers discuss very movingly the specific barriers and opportunities that broadband presents to those who have speech, hearing, vision, hearing and vision, mobility, and intellectual disabilities. A consultant gave a "big picture" analysis of these barriers and opportunities. The panel did a superb job of clearly articulating the problems that we have to solve.

"Advancing National Purposes for People with Disabilities" was the theme of the third panel. Jim Fruchterman of Benetech discussed how Bookshare allows people with vision, learning, and mobility disabilities to have online access to over 50,000 books and periodicals. Peggy Hathaway of Spinal Cord Advocates discussed how broadband provides new job and civic participation opportunities for people with mobility disabilities, and Claude Stout of Telecommunications for the Deaf discussed the urgent need for people in the deaf and hard-of-hearing community to be able to contact E-911 services directly using pagers, e-mail, and real-time text and video. Kate Seelman of the University of Pittsburgh discussed how broadband-enabled telerehabilitation can help people with disabilities better manage their health and employment, and Ishak Kang of DOT UI discussed how the Smart Grid could benefit people with disabilities.

The fourth panel was a fascinating exploration of the technological barriers and opportunities relating to broadband accessibility. Among other things, the panelists addressed E-911 issues; the importance of interoperability and open architecture; the potential to address accessibility challenges through cloud computing; and the challenges related to captioning on the Internet.

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