Braille Monitor                                                 March 2011

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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 and software 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, software, and other user interfaces that are inaccessible to people 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 easily discerned and readily identified. 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 or software such as copiers, fax machines, and basic word-processing programs, that person’s opportunity to join the workforce or maintain an existing job is in great jeopardy.

Many popular, cost-effective mechanisms are available for manufacturers to create interfaces usable through nonvisual means. For example, text-to-speech technology is inexpensive and more prevalent 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. Apple has incorporated VoiceOver (a text-to-speech function) into the touch-screen iPhone, making it the only fully accessible wireless handset on the market. The key is to build in nonvisual access at the design stage. Despite these available accessibility solutions, the majority of manufacturers have continued to design interfaces that do not include nonvisual means of use. This trend of inaccessibility will continue to grow as technology becomes more advanced and accessibility solutions are ignored.

Need for Legislation:

No enforceable mandates currently exist for manufacturers of consumer electronics, home appliances, kiosks, or electronic office technology to make their products accessible to blind consumers. There are also no accessibility standards to provide guidance to manufacturers on how to avoid creating barriers to access for the blind.

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

The legislation should not mandate a single, one-size-fits-all solution for all consumer electronics, home appliances, kiosks, or electronic office technology. Rather it should mandate 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 by sponsoring the Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind to ensure that blind people can fully participate in all aspects of 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, extension 2207
Email: <lmclarney@nfb.org>

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