WASHINGTON – President Obama this afternoon signed legislation spearheaded by Representative Edward J. Markey that significantly expands the digital horizons of the disabled.
The bipartisan legislation increases access for the disabled to a panoply of high-tech devices and means of communications, from phones calls over the Internet to enhanced TV remotes and easier-to-use smartphones.
“The bill I’m signing today into law will better ensure full participation in our democracy and our economy for Americans with disabilities,” Obama said today in a ceremony at the White House attended by Markey and several other lawmakers.
The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act mandates that remote controls have buttons to easily access closed captioning on broadcast and pay television; requires telecommunications equipment that makes calls over the internet to be compatible with hearing aids; and makes television program guides and selection menus accessible to those with vision loss. It also requires captioning on new TV programs that are offered online and improves the web accessibility of smartphones.
“We’ve moved from Braille to broadband, from tracing words in palms to navigating a Palm Pilot,'' Markey, a Democrat of Malden who introduced the legislation in June 2009, said in a statement. "Americans with disabilities need access to the latest 21st century communications and video tools to compete in the job market and engage in daily activities that increasingly rely on the latest technologies.”
The new law also provides $10 million annually for low-income Americans who are both deaf and blind to use for purchasing accessible internet access.
At the ceremony, Obama recognized Markey and several other members of congress. He also paid tribute to another attendee: Stevie Wonder.
“I happen to be listening to him this morning when I woke up,” Obama said. “He’s what I work out to. He’s what I sweet-talk Michelle to.”
Earlier in the week, Obama signed a bill that removes the phrase “mentally retarded” from all federal health, education, and labor laws. It replaces the phrase with “intellectual disability.”
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.