Update communications laws, disability groups urge Congress

Out-Law News | 23 Nov 2005 | 2:14 pm | 1 min. read

Disability groups in the US have called upon Congress to update existing telecommunications laws in order to ensure that the disabled have proper access to internet products and services.

The current rules, contained in the Telecommunications Act 1996, are outdated and do not cover new technologies such as email, instant messaging or video relay.

A number of disability groups, including the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), the American Association of People with Disabilities and the World Institute on Disability, on Monday warned that protections contained in the 1996 Act mostly relating to those using the public switched telephone network needed to be extended to cover the internet.

They urged the Senate and House of Representatives, which are both looking to update the law, to take account of the needs of the disabled when considering the new legislation.

“People with disabilities use communications technologies every day that were not even in existence at the time our nation’s communications laws were last amended,” said Kelby Brick, NAD Director of Law and Advocacy.

“People with disabilities will only gain equal access to today’s communications infrastructure and services if Congress acts to extend [disability protection] to internet-enabled products and services,” she added.

Protections being sought by the NAD include a requirement that internet video be captioned, that “locking you in” features on video relay be banned and that companies be obliged to make sure new products and services are accessible to all.

In the UK, the position is governed by the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995, which states that it is unlawful for "a provider of services" – including a provider of internet services to discriminate against a disabled person in failing to comply with its provisions.