Show 76 - 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act

Listen to Show 76

In this podcast, Dr. Amy Parker interviews Mr. Mark Richert, the Director of Public Policy for the American Foundation for the Blind who gives an overview of the new 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. This important legislation includes a special provision for $10 million to assist individuals who are deafblind.

Included in these show notes is a link to comments that were submitted to the Federal Communications Commission regarding the draft notice of Proposed Rulemaking in response to the new legislation, the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act.

Any interested individuals may submit comments to the FCC regarding the implementation of this program before February 14, 2011. Please follow the above link and click submit comments regarding 10-210.


You're listening to the Disability411 Podcast, show number 76.

Beth: Hello and welcome to the Disability411 Podcast, I'm your host, Beth Case. It's been a little longer between shows than I had anticipated, but holiday travel and some technical issues kinda got in the way. But, we're back now. And we're back with a very important show. Today I have an interview that Dr. Amy Parker with Mark Richert from the American Foundation for the Blind. And they're going to be talking about the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. We have talked about that before, but it's been a while and there have been some changes. So they're going to talk more about that, what the current state of the law is, and there's an opportunity for you all to have some input. You can make comments on the new legislation before it goes into effect. Unfortunately, the deadline for makin comments is really soon. So comments are due February 14th, this next Monday.

So, please listen to this show, please tell your friends about this show, and make your comments, because, I know I've talked about this before, but this is your chance to actually have an impact on the laws that will affect you.

So I'm going to cut this intro short and turn it over to Dr. Parker and Mark Richert.


Amy: Hi, welcome everyone to an informational podcast. This is Dr. Amy Parker, and I am interviewing today, the Director of Public Policy, at The American Foundation of the Blind, on an important new law that exists, that’s really going to affect the lives of people who are deafblind, nationally. Thanks, Mark, for offering us your time.

Mark: It’s my pleasure, thanks a lot, Amy.

Amy: Mark, I was wondering if you could briefly describe this lengthy name of this law, as well as, what’s in the law and some of the provisions in it for people who are deafblind?

Mark: The law has a pretty lengthy name, as you suggested. It’s called the 21st Century Communication & Video Accessibility Act.

Amy: Ok. That is a lengthy name but, a good one. And so, some of the provisions that are in this law, for people who are deafblind, what’s so special about it? Why should people really be tuning in to what’s going on?

Mark: The law is a very important piece of legislation for all of us who have disabilities. For folks who are deaf, folks who are blind, and folks who are deafblind. Because this legislation will, for the first time, insure that telecommunications technologies that are connected to the internet, will need to be much more accessible, for all of us, than they have been before. And that video technology, everything from TV’s to cable and satellite set top boxes, and the like, will need to be accessible. The law also insures that there will be much more widely available video description and captioning, so the law is really going to be changing a lot of our lives. The law also sets up, for the first time, the new equipment distribution program for folks who are deafblind, and that’s what you’re having me talk about today.

Amy: Great, great. So, we’re really appreciative, actually, of the tremendous advocacy that multiple groups engaged in for this to happen. The American Foundation for the Blind, The National Association of the Deaf, multiple groups through the COAT – The Coalitionof Organizations for Accessible Technology, certainly AADB – American Association ofthe DeafBlind, who al pulled together to create this new legislation. So, Mark, describefor me, what is the role of the FCC – The Federal Communications Commission, in implementing this new law?

Mark: The FCC is charged with, over a course of a six month period of time, to find out, tofigure out, how it intends to structure this new program. Who it’s going to trust with your tax dollars and mine, up to ten million dollars a year, for the purpose of providing the deafblind with the equipment they need and to determine what the purposes of this new program will be. If it’s just going to be a broad equipment distribution, puttinga piece of equipment in someone’s hands, or will the tax be about not only putting that equipment in someone’s hands, but training them effectively to use it.

Amy: Ok. And what types of equipment currently exist for people who are deafblind? In my experience, there’s not a wide array, although there seems to be some more development in that area.

Mark: Yeah, I myself, of course, am not deafblind, so I wouldn’t presume to be any kind of an expert on technology purposes for folks that are deafblind. But anecdotally, I have heard that there are real limitations on the types of equipment that exists.

Amy: Ok, ok. So, currently, what is the FCC’s proposal? What is their plan for implementing this new law? Any maybe could you educate us on the stages that the FCC is engaging in, to do its implementation?

Mark: So why don’t I take this stages thing first…

Amy: Sure.

Mark: You know the law was passed last year. It was signed into law by President Obama in October. And let me just say, that it was great to participate in that signing, and it wasvery exciting , and it was great, Amy, to have you there as a part of that. It was one heck of a tremendous day and great to see a number of super, more prominent deafblind folk in the country be a part of that.

Amy: Absolutely.

Mark: It was great.

Amy: It was.

Mark: And the law basically says, that six months from the date that the President signed the law, the FCC has to come up with its plan, for how it’s going to structure this new program. They’re required to set that up and to articulate for all of us, how they are going to do that, through something called, the Rule Making Process. There are a couple of stages to that. We are in the midst of one right now. And that is wherethe FCC actually says, “Here’s how we think the program ought to be set up, and we declare that to everybody and we need to get your feedback, and once we have yourfeedback, then we will issue another document that encourages feedback on what has been installed.” So, right now, we’re in the midst of that process, but the written document that articulates what the FCC states that it is doing, is called a Notice of Proposals Rule Making, and it’s a fairly lengthy, extended lengthy document that is pretty technical.But, that document sets out in terms, what the FCC has in mind for the program long term.

Amy: And so now they’ve just been through a cycle where people have responded to some of it’s plan. Is that correct?

Mark: Well, we’re right in the midst of one. The FCC has published this notice, oh gosh, I don’t remember when, but it wasn’t that long ago. Because of their six month window that they’re in, they’re trying to do things on pretty much a fast track. And so, pretty much now through February 14th, Valentine’s Day, the FCC is accepting comments from the public, both individual comments and comments from organizations. A number of us organizations have already submitted comments to the FCC about some of our reactions to what the FCC is proposing.

Amy: Including the National Coalition on DeafBlindness. I know that they have. And with your involvement with them as well, counseling them and informing them about the current structure and needs and the process.

Mark: I think we’re in luck for such a small community in terms of those of us who are either deafblind ourselves, or are advocates and are concerned about and wanting to stand with people who are deafblind. We are really fortunate to have a lot of folks to pitch in and have a lot of really expert things to say. I think the comments of the National Coalition on DeafBlindness really reflect a lot of good input from a lot of great people.

Amy: Great. Thank you, Mark. So, in a nut shell, what is the FCC proposing? What is it saying it’s going to do, in the short run?

Mark: What they’re suggesting, that over the course of the next eighteen (18) months to two (2) years that they intend to not establish a permanent program, but essentially to take this program out for a test drive, and they’re wanting to set up what their styling and the pilot project and essentially find what’s all for, let’s take a deep breath here. We know that the law says we’re supposed to set up this program in six months, but instead of setting up something that will be for all time the way we intend to deliver equipment to deafblind people in this Country, let’s talk about a way to do a trial run. Do a pilot project, do a test, to work out the kinks for the short run. I should be clear to say that this is what they are proposing to do. Note that it is called Notice of Proposal of Rule Making. They’re saying this is what we’re intending to do, but we want your feedback. So, its an opportunity for all of us to react. To view that proposal and let them know how we feel about it.

Amy: And so in the proposal that they put forward, currently there are the structures called equipment distribution programs in states they are charged with. They’ve typically been responsible for relay service provision, other types of equipment for people who are deaf, hard of hearing. Provision in the way past of TTY’s and such things, And when telebraillers were in use and in production, distributing telebraillers to people who are deafblind. So, what they’re saying is, using that current structure they’re going to sort of test the responsiveness of this system, or can you clarify that a little more for us?

Mark: The pilot that they’re proposing to initiate, yes, does assume a major role for each of those existing equipment distribution programs. It sort of assumes that these programs will have the first bite at the apple. They’re inviting those programs to be first in line to receive funds to distribute, , and put in the hands of folks who are deafblind. Equipment that they can use and that presentably also, to do some training and on going support for that equipment for sure. But yet, how’s that gonna look like? But, yeah, the pilot project assumes that those state programs will be first in line. The pilot project does not say that others couldn't possibly be involved either national, regional organizations. But, the pilot does sort of assume that the state programs will be first in line. But what I’m personally concerned about and what I think a number of folks in the deafblindness community, who have looked at this proposal by the FCC, are concerned about is that it’s not entirely clear what this pilot does beyond that.

Amy: Ok.

Mark: I’m simply giving the state equipment programs some of the first right of refusal to do this work. It’s not clear that this pilot isn’t that first right of refusal model.

Amy: Ok. So, we don’t actually even know today, in theory, how the current equipment distribution programs are serving people who are deafblind, I mean, I presume they are keeping some data on the types of people, ages, where they live, and how they’re reserved, and what types of equipment they receive. I’ve heard various stories, as I’m sure other advocates have shared about the lack of training, maybe that they’ve received in that process. I also know, particularly in the deafblindness community, we’re concerned about states being able to develop capacity because of just our numbers. And that’s certainly, I mean the Federal Education system is based on a federal model, if you will, where as states have not been really charged with developing capacity because they really can’t to serve such a low incidence population, so, this seems to have some cross walking with this new law. So, Mark, if you could take a minute and describe, what do you think the opportunities are, within this new law, for the community? And maybe a scenario of what’s the worst thing that could happen? What’s the best thing that could happen?

Mark: The first, the simplest “opportunity” that we have is to react and make our presence known. I know that there are parts of the Country where people feel as though their state equipment distribution program is doing a great job, and far be it from me to suggest that folks say the current service system is poor. I’m sure that’s true. What I think people are concerned about is that, that may not be the case, state by state, around the Country as a whole, and in fact, there may be much more efficient ways of delivering services to people who are deafblind and those ways may not be a state by state approach. They may indeed be a national or regional approach, a more centralized approach. Or an approach on some hybrid, where national or regional organizations are working with existing state equipment distribution programs on a sub-contract, on a sub-contracting basis. Where a national program can work with the states, in a particular region, to deliver. Those are the kind of creative things to weigh to deliver services, that I think I’ve certainly been concerned about. I know a number of advocacy organizations for the deafblindness community have already said to the FCC, “Please don’t just leave the state equipment distribution program, across the Country to figure this out. We need to be able to see, if we’re going to do a pilot project, we need to be able to test what different approaches might make some sense. So, I think the first thing that all of us can do is, if we have feelings about that, we should let the FCC know that the pilot needs to evaluate the structures, whether it be a state by state approach, or a national or regional approach, or a lot of us feel, some sort of a combination, thereof.

Amy: Ok. And probably even different types of populations that may be served. Kids in transition, seniors, young adults who are working, different types of people who are deafblind, who need this equipment to be able to access the world. So, this is great, Mark, for you to take your time with us, and encourage people in the community to feel empowered as teachers, as parents, as consumers, to do this. And in the show notes, for this podcast, we’ll be including a link to the FCC’s website. We’ll be including some documents maybe that have already been produced, that kind of give more of a thumbnail sketch of what we’ve covered here. Any other closing thoughts for the community, for the people that might be listening, Mark? And we certainly are appreciative of your role in “standing beside”, I think that’s the word that you used, standing beside people who are deafblind. Any closing thoughts for us?

Mark: I don’t know any parting, grand words of profound wisdom, other than to say, that I think it is such a cliché for people who do the kind of work that I do, in the public policy area, to tell folks in the real world that your voice matters, your point of view matters, one person’s comments can make a difference. It now technically says it really isn’t. If we had the time, I could tell you all kinds of stories, yes, large coalitions, organizations doing work at that make an impact, but over time, a single individual’s comments have gotten the attention of policy makers, have in some cases, resulted in breaking law jammed and getting things done, either in Congress or in Federal agencies. And so, if I were somebody listening to this podcast thinking, “You know, geesh, my smart little story about my experience with the existing state distribution program” or, “My experience with that National organization of working on behalf of, or working with people that are deafblind, that couldn’t possibly make a difference.” I can say, you’re just simply wrong about that. Your story is absolutely going to be much more compelling than any kind of policy work difference, that I or other people can offer the FCC. Because those real stories illustrate, in concrete terms for them, the benefits and the draw backs of this or that or the other approach. So, please, if you’ve got a story to tell, tell it, because we’re all going to benefit from it.

Amy: Really, Mark, thank you, truly, for your time and this is a tremendous opportunity for us to think about ways that your son or daughter, your friends, people in the community that you know, could have access to the world. And that’s, you know, make a telephone call, use the internet, that’s what this law was intended, and many people have worked hard on it. I think, Mark, you’ve acknowledged that there are many friends at the FCC, so there’s a responsive group of people who actually had a hand, in a previous life, in creating the law.

Mark: You absolutely are correct for not only their advocacy, but their commitment to these issues. Make that a very friendly and understanding audience, there at the FCC.

Amy: That’s a great, tremendous opportunity for us all. Thank you again, Mark Richert, Director of Public Policy for the American Foundation for the Blind, for your time and your guidance on this.

Mark: The pleasure’s mine, thank you.


Beth: I want to send a special thanks to Dr. Parker and Mark for doing this interview for the podcast. I think this is really an important issue, and please, the deadline is tight, so spread the word, send the link out, and get your friends and colleagues to participate and make comments. Remember, they're due this coming Monday, February 14th. So go to our shownotes at There's a link where you can go and electronically submit your comments. Of course on that website, you can also see our past shows, read the transcript of this and all our past shows, and find other disability-related information. So until next time, this is Beth Case with the Disability411 Podcast.