Braille Monitor                                                    April 2009

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A Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind

Purpose: To create a Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind that mandates consumer electronics, home appliances, and office equipment to 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 like consumer electronics, home appliances, and office equipment. Many new devices in these categories require user 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. No longer are settings on the television, home stereo system, or dishwasher controlled by knobs, switches, and buttons that can be readily identified and whose settings can be easily discerned, with or without the addition of tactile markings by the user. Moreover, the use of inaccessible interfaces on office equipment such as copiers and fax machines makes these devices unusable by the blind and therefore a potential threat to a blind person’s existing job or a barrier to obtaining new employment.

This growing threat to the independence and productivity of blind people is unnecessary since digital devices can function without inaccessible interfaces. Today text-to-speech technology is inexpensive and more nearly 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; there is no reason why other manufacturers cannot do so as well. And text-to-speech technology is not the only mechanism by which consumer electronics, home appliances, and office equipment can be made accessible to blind people.

Need for Legislation: Currently there are no enforceable mandates for manufacturers of consumer electronics, home appliances, or office equipment to make their devices accessible and 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 clearly establishes that manufacturers must create accessible user interfaces for their products, provide a means for enforcement, and establish standards that will provide meaningful benchmarks that manufacturers can use to make their products accessible.

Congress need not mandate a single, one-size-fits-all solution for all consumer technology. Rather any such legislation should mandate regulations that set meaningful accessibility standards, while at the same time allowing manufacturers to select from a menu of potential solutions that, singly or in combination, will allow blind users to operate the technology easily and successfully. This will not only give manufacturers the freedom and flexibility they desire, but 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 introducing legislation to create a Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind (or by cosponsoring once legislation has been introduced) so that blind people will be able to participate fully in all aspects of American society. Increased access leads to increased independence, increased employment, and increased tax revenue.

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