ACB – Letter to Shapiro about H.R.3101, “The 21st Century Telecommunications and Video Accessibility Act.”

I wish I had saved the email with the article Shapiro wrote about all this, but I didn’t. Below is a response an ACB member sent to Shapiro. I’ve omitted the writer’s info. I’m sure some googling would find the article about Shapiro’s opinion about it all. I think Shapiro should spend the day blindfolded and try to find his favorite shows on tv, or use his cell phone.


Hello All:

Below please find a copy of the e-mail message I sent to Mr. Gary Shapiro,
President, of the Consumer Electronics Association in response to the Opp.
Ed. Which he wrote that appeared in the Washington Times on June 9
discussing H.R.3101. Read and enjoy.

start letter:
Hello Mr. Shapiro:

This message is my response to the Opp Ed by you which was published June 9,
2010 by the Washington Times, against H.R.3101, “The 21st Century
Telecommunications and Video Accessibility Act.” I will respond from three
viewpoints, as a person who is totally blind, as a leader in the organized
blind movement and as a professional working daily in the field of adaptive
technology with people who are blind or visually impaired.

You assert that H.R.3101 is not needed, since industry is moving to address
accessibility. If industry is doing such a good job, then why does there
continue to be only one truly accessible cell phone out of the box for
people who are blind or visually impaired, that being the IPhone? If
industry was doing such a great job, we consumers with disabilities would
have many more choices of accessible cell phones. While there are cell
phones such as those made by LG that offer off the shelf accessibility to
some features, as I stated, the IPhone is the only fully accessible phone
off the shelf providing access to all of its features. While there are
people who are blind who use and love the IPhone, many others to whom I
speak on an almost daily basis do not want to use a touch screen interface
such as that on the IPhone. Many, myself included, do not want to be
limited to AT&T Wireless as the only cell phone provider we can use. By
your assertions, you are saying it is OK that we who have disabilities and
want to buy cell phones should have limited choices.

I use Verizon Wireless as my cell phone provider. In order to get a fully
accessible phone, I had to spend $300 over and above the cost of the phone
to purchase a software package that makes all of the phone’s features
accessible to me via speech output. I, fortunately, am employed and had the
money to do this. However, nearly 70% of people who are blind or visually
impaired are not employed, and therefore, cannot afford this extra cost.
H.R.3101 when passed will insure there will be more choices for off the
shelf accessible cell phones.

My wife and I purchased a home theater system about 10 months ago. Because
this system requires the use of on-screen menus to configure its settings,
we had to ask my brother-in-law to give up over half of his Saturday with
his family to come over and set the system up for us. What if something
goes wrong and the system needs to be re-configured? We will need to find a
sighted person to come help us. Contrary to what some believe, we don’t
have sighted people at our beckon call for everything we need. Synthesized
speech chips and software are widely available, and it would have been very
simple to include a setting where I could have requested voice guidance
through the setup of this system. If speech synthesis technology wasn’t so
widely available, why then are all of the weather forecasts you hear on NOAA
Weather Radio done using synthesized speech? Why in airports do you hear
announcements being made using synthesized speech and not humans? I ride a
commuter rail system each day to and from work, the second largest system of
its kind in the nation. When announcements are made concerning such things
as train delays, they are not made by humans. They are punched into a
computer somewhere and broadcast using synthesized speech.

My wife and I have digital cable service. We pay the same rates per month
as others with comparable plans. Yet, about all we can do is adjust the
volume, turn on and off the TV and switch channels. All of the other
features are inaccessible to us because they require use of an on-screen
menu which is not available to us via speech output. I hear announcements
about movies on demand and cannot access these to enjoy them if I wanted
too. I can’t use Digital Video Recorder (DVR) service to record programs I
want to watch later. If industry was doing such a great job, there would be
a speech output feature that I could access on demand which would allow me
to access these and other features. What if tonight after composing this
letter, I cannot sleep and want to know what is on TV? I cannot access the
program guide and I don’t have a sighted person at my disposal for that sort
of thing. I’d like to keep my friends as my friends, maintain peace in my
family and have good relationships with my neighbors. Since you assert
industry is doing such a good job, tell me how I can access the program
guide. I’m waiting.

If industry was doing such a great job, why then didn’t the designers of the
Kindle II Book Reader sold by Amazon design menus and controls that could be
accessed using speech output? After all, they designed in speech output to
read the content of books, it would have been a simple few extra steps to
make the menus and controls accessible via speech output. If Industry was
doing such a great job, why do people who are blind or visually impaired
have to pay eight or nine times the cost that sighted people do to enjoy the
benefits of Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) technology? After all, GPS
devices like those made by Garman, Magellan and Tom Tom provide spoken
directions. It would be a simple few steps to include a keypad and voice
output of menus and controls so these systems could be independently
programmed by people who are blind.

These examples and countless others totally render your assertions about how
good industry is doing pointless. The fact is, Mr. Shapiro, that there has
been nothing achieved in the area of disability access without assistance
from the Government. We'[re seeing an example of this on America’s streets
right now. Hybrid cars, which are very good for our environment are
designed to operate using an electric motor when stopped or moving at speeds
below about 25 miles per hour. When they were initially designed, no one
considered the fact that pedestrians who are blind or visually impaired and
others would not be able to hear these vehicles and know that it is safe to
cross the street. Thanks to advocacy work which has led to the introduction
of legislation in Congress to address this problem, the car companies are
taking notice.

I, personally, am one of the strongest believers in the free market you will
meet. I know that America has countless talented people, ready to innovate
and design great new electronics. But I also know that at times, Government
needs to step in and help make sure people are doing what is right so that
those of us with disabilities are not left behind. Apple is to be commended
for making their products accessible to people who are blind or visually
impaired right out of the box. Not all of us want to purchase Apple
products. You and the Consumer Electronics Association should be
encouraging other companies to follow Apple’s lead as Apple has proven that
off the shelf access is feasible. Since it appears you have not, then
H.R.3101 must be passed and signed into law. After all, the more devices we
who have disabilities can choose to purchase, the more profits the consumer
electronics industry will make as a whole. The population of people who are
blind or visually impaired is expected to grow exponentially over the next
several years. Most of those who will develop vision problems will be
seniors as they live longer. They are used to being active, being able to
do all sorts of things. They’re not going to stand for being told, sorry,
you can’t access this computer or that television set top box, and they
shouldn’t. By passing H.R.3101, we can unleash the talents of designers and
engineers in electronics companies across the world to come up with products
everyone, including those with disabilities can use. You should want
nothing less, for remember, the minority group of people with disabilities
is the only one that you, a member of your family or a close friend can join
at any time.

Thank you for your time and attention. I hope you will re-think your
demeaning, ridiculous assertions about H.R.3101 and come out in support of
true access to the latest and greatest devices for all of us.


Filed under ACB, accessibility, apple Inc, no no sightie

39 Responses to ACB – Letter to Shapiro about H.R.3101, “The 21st Century Telecommunications and Video Accessibility Act.”

  1. As soon as I saw the words president of the Consumer electronics Association I thought ok, probably an ahole. Sounds like I’m pretty close. that letter is great, making obvious points that are somehow completely lost on these people. Industry and government rarely do a good job of anything, but now and then one can force the other into it.

  2. That was a pretty sweet verbal chomping I must say.

  3. Ro

    I really wish I had saved the article that quoted Shapiro. I didn’t have the energy to try and find it.

    When I read this reply all I could say was bravo.

  4. hereis a nice summary of what he’s been saying. It’s got some good links in it, including one to the Washington Times column you’re looking for.

    Yup, totally an ahole.

  5. Ro

    Ah sweet, thanks for finding that.

  6. Really no problem at all, only took me about 30 seconds.

  7. So I guess I am an “ahole” because I pointed out that requiring an innovator to put every feature for every disabled person (physically or mentally disabled) on each and every new product is a ridiculous requirement. Have any of you read the legislation or considered that had this been law earlier none of you would be even able to have this dialogue over the internet? The Internet would not exist, the iPhone would not have been introduced and innovators would face insurmountable barriers.

    I cannot imagine how frustrating is to be blind and not be able to use products (although my wife spends most of her waking hours fixing and avoiding blindness) but I can appeal to your intelligence and understanding that people who risk their life savings to invent things should not have to do the things required in this bill. More, disabled people almost always benefit from innovations in ways that no one anticipates when inventing and innovating. So be careful of what you ask for because if you get it then the pace of innovation will dramatically slow and some great things may never be created or introduced in the United States.

    Calling me names means simply you have no substance to your views.

  8. Ro

    I can only speak for myself in how I react to all this legislation. I admit I don’t do a lot of research in understanding what all it takes to make things accessible. For me, I react pretty quickly, having not always been blind. I’ve only been adjusting for two years, so I’m new to the “fight”.

    I am lucky that I was able to buy a Mac after I went blind, since I couldn’t justify spending money on Jaws for my less than great PC. After learning that Apple was the only company to make everything accessible out of the box, I was disgusted at how little was accessible, and how much everything else cost.

    For me, I made a snap judgement because it seemed like you were saying we don’t deserve to access everything sighted people do.

    I don’t know what the solution is, and it doesn’t matter what I think. It all comes down to politics anyway, and I’m not a politician.

    Thanks for commenting and sharing your views.

  9. I realize that not every device can be all things to all people and that there is such a thing as overly broad legislation, but having been blind for 30 years I’ve always been more than a touch disgusted by industry’s views on having to even make the attempt to build in even the slightest bit of access. The way that speech technology is now, it doesn’t add much to the cost of an item to produce. hell, some things are built with limited speech just to be cute, like those self-checkout things at WalMart, for instance. Those things talk just enough to get a blind person’s hopes up, then quit talking when we need them most. that, quite frankly, pisses me and many others off, and is why I called you an ahole. You personally may not be one, heck, you might be a pretty cool guy to hang out and have a beer with, but as the face of an industry populated by companies who treat us like we don’t matter and like we’re the ones who are aholes for so much as having the temerity to ask for things to improve, you were the one who got it. Was it the nicest thing I could have said? Certainly not. but can I say I wouldn’t say it again? No. Here in Canada, lobby groups got a provision slipped into our proposed new copyright law that would effectively kill access to information for disabled people if somebody decides to put a digital lock on something. That’s the work of aholes, no ifs, ands or buts about it. We’re not asking for perfection, because that’s ridiculous. What we want is fairness and a good faith effort on your part to help us level the playing field. I’m not sure how industry could find fault with that, because it’s what everybody, not just the blind and otherwise disabled, deserve.

  10. and I should add to what I wrote above that it would be in your best financial interest to improve access technology in your products. I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but pretty much every company in the business of creating access tech charges prices that are quite honestly insane. the reason they do this is because in most places there are governments and other agencies that will assist people with covering the extremely high costs of these products. The money that funds these programs comes from tax revenue collected from business and the public at large. If things were built with access in mind out of the box, think of the money that could be saved, and the competition that could be created as companies raced to make better product at a more reasonable price point.

    The other way to look at this is from a humanity point of view. I’m sure that many in the business world won’t quite grasp what I’m about to say, but not everything in life is about making the most money. It’s not always whoever has the most toys wins. Sometimes more can be gained in the long run by helping out your fellow man. Apple has a lot of good will in the blind community for what they’ve done, and they don’t appear to be going broke any time soon. there’s no good reason why any other company couldn’t put itself in Apple’s position. They just haven’t because it’s for the most part uncharted territory. but Apple has shown that it isn’t impossible and certainly not crippling to the bottom line. We’d just like to see others follow suit, and we’re more than willing to give those who do good word of mouth advertising, and that’s the best kind there is.

  11. Ro

    Do you think he’ll come back and respond again? I’m glad you commented again because you’ve been at this stuff for way longer than I and I just didn’t even know what to say.

  12. Funny you should mention the iPhone, the very phone that is accessible out of the box now, to somehow back up your views. That makes no sense to me.

    It’s amazing how many innovations designed to be accessible would help the everyday Joe. If it was approached from that perspective, instead of “oh god, we can’t help those with disabilities,” you would have more of an open mind to accessibility. How many mothers pushing babies with strollers have used ramps or automatic doors? That wasn’t what they were designed for, but hey, it benefits them.

    I think, if tomorrow you went blind and couldn’t use your blackberry or other electronics you have come to rely on, you would turn a 180 and demand accessibility. It’s usually what happens to people who develop a disability. Before an important individual has a personal reason to become concerned, those with disabilities don’t matter and it’s too hard, but if they become blind and can’t use their computer, or come to rely on a wheelchair and suddenly can’t get inside their office because the door doesn’t open automatically, then good god things have to change, and now!

    And I also take offense to your words “avoiding and preventing blindness.” I appreciate her work, but not all disabilities can be fixed. Some of us were born this way, and we’re for the most part happy as we are. We’re not broken or defective, we just do things differently.

  13. Hard to say. he might, he might not. Odds are about 50/50.

    I would have come back and said something sooner but Carin and I have been gone since yesterday doing Father’s Day stuff and just got back a little bit ago. glad I could add some “substance” to the argument.

  14. Ro

    Yeah I knew you guys were out of town for the function. I should have waited to reply since my brain had just been eaten from listening to an extra innings game at the Marlins stadium where 15,000 fans had been given those horrible buzzing noise makers. Bet the deaf just gained some folks who will be pushing for accessibility.

    I remember talking to my friend who’s learning ASL about accessibility for the deaf and she said that as a group, they are very loud in demanding what they need. The blind are pretty behind if you think about it. How long have the deaf had captioning? She said the captioning isn’t always that great, but at least they have it. And we can’t even access digital menus. I once heard that in the UK, they have spoken menus, but I’m not sure how accurate that is.

  15. When you say digital menus, are you talking about on things like cable boxes? I’ve never heard of the UK having that, but that doesn’t mean they don’t. Somebody reading must know for sure, or maybe that’s another thing for me to look into.

  16. Hehehe, you said function.

    I was amazed to learn that often if a deaf person arrives at a hospital, no attempt is made to get an ASL interpreter in there. Can you imagine how terrifying that would be? I mean you can write stuff down on a note, but to some, that is considered to be a second language.

  17. Um, erm, didn’t I post about that?

  18. Ro

    Yeah, menus on the digital cable. I don’t remember where I heard that.

    I remember a deaf patient I had when I worked at the lab. She was a regular so we developed a routine and could communicate. I also had a deaf couple when I worked at the doctors office and that was so hard. They had an interpretor when they came to see the doctor, but not when they came for a blood draw. I also remember a blind patient and after I went blind, I thought about him and this time that I said, “here let me take your elbow” and I took his elbow and steered him into my draw room. I think about him often, wondering why he didn’t tell me that wasn’t right, because I sure as heck tell people not to steer me. I wish now that I had been given training on things like that.

  19. Ro

    Did you? You should go find it and link here in case Mr. Shapiro comes back.

  20. Ro

    Oh, and saying I wish now that I had been given training on how to guide blind people during my medical schooling really drives home your point about how we don’t think about those things until it happens to us.

  21. Yup. I had that point sledge hammered home when I went to the accessibility conference. I had no idea that very few internet videos are captioned. I will even readily admit that I am somewhat clueless as to the details of other disabilities and what less obvious accessibility barriers they face.

  22. Ro

    Yeah, my friend said a lot of times the captioning is way off. I remember I had this old funky tv and for some reason, there was always captioning on the Jay Leno show. And it was always way behind.

    Did you know deaf people have video blogs where they sign? It seemed silly to me at first, because they can read blogs. But the thing about ASL is that it’s not just signing english. If you were to translate exactly what’s being signed, it wouldn’t even make sense for us. So interpretors have to translate the signing into english. It’s like, english short hand. So the deaf have video blogs where they sign and it actually makes more sense for them that way. They have a whole culture. It’s totally different than being a part of the blind community. It’s really fascinating. And they get what they need. They get more money and all kinds of stuff. I don’t mean cash, I mean they get more money for services. Dave was telling me that when the budget comes out, funding for the blind is last in line.

  23. I do my level best to educate, but if I’m feeling especially depleted in the energey department, or if I’m overwhelmed by other things, sometimes I’ll just do what I have to do to get in and get out of a situation. Sometimes when we need blood drawn, we’re not feeling so good. There was an ugly situation I went through when I was very ill six years ago. A doctor treated me like complete garbage, and if I hadn’t felt like I was about to die, I might have spoken up. But to this day, I have never addressed what happened. Now it’s way too late, but the reason it got left was I didn’t have the energy to deal with it.

    And some of us just suck at advocating for ourselves, plain and simple. I don’t mean that to be mean. Just some of us never got good at it, or were told to be “good and polite” and became too timid.

  24. Yeah I saw a youtube channel called “happy hands” where someone told ASL jokes…but there ain’t no sound but slap smack clap clap of signs. It’s a really funky concept. I listened to a whole speech, interpreted of course, from a lady from the Canadian Hearing Society. Must! Blog! my conference! experience! soon!

  25. Ro

    I could have sworn I read something about it already being accessible somewhere, meaning digital cable. Man, I wish I remembered. Might have been on the ACB email list.

    When I went blind, I had just enough vision to remember the hospital room. I woke up totally blind the next day and they tried to move me. They took me to a new room and the toilet literally pulled out from under a cabinet or something. I began to panic and totally freaked out. B started saying he wanted a patient advocate, they couldn’t just move me like that. He kept saying patient advocate over and over and finally a guy came and was like, she just went blind, put her back in her old room. It was awful. Since B works in mental health, he’s a great advocate and has taught me a lot about advocating for myself.

    But yeah, I’ve let things slide before because I was too afraid, or didn’t know enough. Especially I was newly blind, I didn’t know what I could fight for, and really still don’t.

  26. Ro

    Yes. You. Should.

    I wish some of the other blinks had gotten in on this comment thread.

  27. Give ’em time. Maybe they’re off visiting their papas.

  28. Ro

    Oh yeah, I forget people are close with their dads. 😉

  29. Some people don’t speak up because they’re shy, and some just don’t bother. I know personally I don’t always tell people they’re doing it wrong, but most of the time I do. When I don’t it’s generally because we’re going someplace that’s so close it would take me longer to say it than it would to get there.

  30. “Um, erm, didn’t I post about that?”

    what are you asking me for, you’re the one with the memory. but now that you say that I think you may have…wasn’t that a long time back?

  31. “I will even readily admit that I am somewhat clueless as to the details of other disabilities and what less obvious accessibility barriers they face.”

    I’d say that likely goes for most of us, but the important part is whether or not you have an open mind about it and are willing to learn.

  32. Knowing what and what you can and should fight for is one of those things you’ll be constantly figuring out. A lot of it is being put into situations and thinking hey, why is this or that thing being done this way, and does it have to be? Could it be done in a better way? Once you answer that, it then becomes ok, is this a battle worth fighting? I doubt all blindness advocates would agree, but it’s important to pick your battles. If you yell and scream about every little thing, your voice loses its impact and will more than likely be lost in the crowd when it could really be useful. as much as we want the world to work with us, we also have to work with the world. We can’t always bend things to our will, and that’s ok.

  33. Those ASL jokes you found that somebody had written out were pretty amusing.

  34. Yeah those were cool. The first thing I found, I was so sad because I didn’t have a clue what was going on…the person was signing up a storm, and I was dying to know what was going on.

  35. I left a comment and am unsure if I did not do something correctly, if the moderator has not yet seen it or she has rejected it. I can’t imagine it is the latter as she made it clear that as long as we meet her standards she will post comments.

  36. Ro

    Hmmm, this comment and the first comment are the only ones I got. Did you try posting another? Sometimes Blogger eats comments, especially if they’re too long. Wish I knew the word limit. I can assure you I’ll post anything. The only comments I don’t post are by people who know me who accidentally give personal info, so as long as the comment comes to my email, it gets published.

  37. Thank you so much for sharing. My exposure to web accessibility (which is, I understand, only part of what needs to be addressed) was within the first few weeks on the job – at a *state* university. One of the first things we were expected to know, after basic HTML and CSS, was how to ensure that our products are accessible. However, our IT program only requires that “essential” functionality be accessible. Bells and whistles like ID look-ups are not required to be accessible, although I personally try to make them so.

    Industry will always be about the bottom line, which is precisely why we need legislation.

    P.S. On the subject accessibility – Blogger comments don’t allow the acronym tag. Ugh.

  38. Ro

    In my limited knowledge of all this, I’m pretty sure web accessibility has already been addressed, at least when it comes to government and state type websites. I know government websites are required to have a level of accessibility, just from what I’ve read on my accessibility email list. But as far as I know, it doesn’t carry over to consumer type stuff. Websites like Amazon and though, have recognized the huge client base they’d be missing if we couldn’t access their stuff, so they have taken some pretty big strides.

    This particular legislation has to do with communications and that’s where the lobbyists are coming in, to try and “protect” companies from having to spend the money to make things accessible. Things like weather alerts that scroll at the bottom of the screen. Sometimes I’m lucky and the channel that will be on has a spoken weather warning.

    I think web accessibility has come a long way, even in the short time I’ve been involved. As for Google products, most are fairly accessible. Not even sure what the tag is that you’re thinking of hehe.

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