Braille Monitor                                                   March 2010

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A Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind

Purpose: To mandate that consumer electronics, home appliances, kiosks, and electronic office technology provide user interfaces that are accessible through nonvisual means.

Background: In recent years rapid advances in microchip and digital technology have led to increasingly complex user interfaces for everyday products such as consumer electronics, home appliances, kiosks, and electronic office technology. Many new devices in these categories require interaction with visual displays, on-screen menus, touch screens, and other user interfaces that are inaccessible to individuals who are blind or have low vision. Settings on the stove, dishwasher, or home entertainment system are no longer controlled by knobs, switches, and buttons that can be readily identified and whose settings can be easily discerned. Inaccessibility of these devices is a major barrier to a blind person’s independence and productivity. If a blind person cannot operate the interfaces of basic office equipment such as copiers and fax machines, this is a potential threat to that person’s opportunity to join the workforce or to maintain an existing job.

Many popular nonvisual mechanisms are available for manufacturers to create interfaces accessible to everyone. For example, text-to-speech technology is inexpensive and more ubiquitous than it has ever been—it is used in everything from automated telephone systems to the weather forecasting service broadcast by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Indeed, a few manufacturers have incorporated this technology into their products to create talking menus or to articulate what is on the display screen, but many manufacturers have continued to design interfaces that do not include any nonvisual means of use, rendering the devices inaccessible to blind people.

Need for Legislation: Currently no enforceable mandates exist for manufacturers of consumer electronics, home appliances, kiosks, and electronic office technology to make their products accessible to all consumers. There are also no accessibility standards to provide guidance to manufacturers on how to avoid creating barriers to access by the blind.

Congress should therefore enact a Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind which:

This legislation does not mandate a single, one-size-fits-all solution for all consumer technology, home appliances, kiosks, or electronic office technology. Rather it mandates regulations setting meaningful accessibility standards that allow manufacturers to select from a menu of potential solutions or create new ones. This will not only give manufacturers the freedom and flexibility they desire, but will also encourage innovations that make consumer technology more usable for everyone.

Proposed Legislation: Congress should enact a Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind that:

Requested Action: Please support blind Americans and cosponsor a Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind to ensure that blind people can fully participate in all aspects of American society. Increased access leads to increased independence, increased employment, and increased tax revenue.

Contact Information:
Lauren McLarney
Government Programs Specialist
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
Phone: (410) 659-9314, ext. 2207
Email: <lmclarney@nfb.org>

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