obama signs bill to further equal opportunity for the blind and deaf

On Friday, October 8, President Obama signed the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act which is a step toward equal opportunity for Americans with disabilities. It is fitting for such progress to be made 20 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed in 1990 by President Bush, Sr. While this first bill opened up doors for the millions of Americans with disabilities, the fight for equal opportunity is ongoing. This new 2010 bill is evidence that our legislature is lobbying for those who may not have the capacity to stand up for themselves.

The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act will expand access to television, the internet, and other telecommunications technologies for disabled Americans. It will update close captioning and video description services as well as improve the dissemination of emergency information in the event of a national crisis.

Before signing the bill, President Obama addressed those attending the momentous occasion in the East Room of the White House. Visitors included Stevie Wonder among other key advocates–senators and civilian supporters alike–of the Act. (Go here to read the President’s remarks in their entirety.)

“[The signing of the ADA in 1990] was a moment for every American to reflect not just on one of the most comprehensive civil rights bills in our history, but what that bill meant to so many people. It was a victory won by countless Americans who refused to accept the world as it is, and against great odds, waged quiet struggles and grassroots crusades until finally change was won.

“The story of the disability rights movement is enriched because it’s intertwined with the story of America’s progress. Americans with disabilities are Americans first and foremost, and like all Americans are entitled to not only full participation in our society, but also full opportunity in our society.

“So we’ve come a long way. But even today, after all the progress that we’ve made, too many Americans with disabilities are still measured by what folks think they can’t do, instead of what we know they can do.

“The fight for progress isn’t about sympathy, by the way — it’s about opportunity. And that’s why all of us share a responsibility to keep building on the work of those who came before us — one life, one law, one step at a time.

“The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act will make it easier for people who are deaf, blind or live with a visual impairment to do what many of us take for granted — from navigating a TV or DVD menu to sending an email on a smart phone. It sets new standards so that Americans with disabilities can take advantage of the technology our economy depends on. And that’s especially important in today’s economy, when every worker needs the necessary skills to compete for the jobs of the future.

“So equal access. Equal opportunity. The freedom to make of our lives what we will. Living up to these principles is an obligation we have as Americans — and to one another. Because, in the end, each of us has a role to play in our economy. Each of us has something to contribute to the American story. And each of us must do our part to continue on this never-ending journey towards building a more perfect union.”

Way to go, Government. Pretty soon, maybe every piece of technology will be equipped with features as awesome as Apple’s VoiceOver. (I still need to blog about the wonders of Apple products for accessibility.)

On an aside, Obama also signed Rosa’s Law–named for a nine-year-old with Down Syndrome–last Tuesday that now requires the replacement of the phrase “mentally retarded” with “intellectually disabled” in all federal health, education, and labor laws, the idea behind it being that (in the words of Rosa’s older brother Nick) “what you call people is how you treat them; if we change the words, maybe it will be the start of a new attitude towards people with disabilities.”

I know I am notorious for my callous political incorrectness, but reading the President’s remarks almost brought tears to my eyes. It’s one of those things that you don’t really think about until it directly affects you. Keep fighting the good fight, People.