Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) was privileged to be invited to testify before the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet June 10, 2010. Lise Hamlin, director of public policy for HLAA, testified in support of the Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2009 (HR 3101) on behalf of HLAA and COAT, the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology. Stg. Major Jesse Acosta provided testimony for the American Council of the Blind, also in support of this legislation.
Industry witnesses Walter McCormick President and Chief Executive Officer, United States Telecom Association (USTA), James Assey, Executive Vice President, National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA), Bobby Franklin, Executive Vice President, CTIA – The Wireless Association, and Gary Shapiro President and Chief Executive Officer of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) provided their own perspectives of the legislation.
HLAA expected to hear a range of opinion on the proposed legislation. In his opening remarks, chairman of the full House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Henry Waxman (CA) said: "It's time to bring Americans with disabilities across the digital divide" and stated he wants to bring the bill to the floor at this momentous time, the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.” Mr. Waxman’s remarks were an encouraging start to the hearing.
However, it wasn’t long before partisan differences between Democratic and Republican representatives provided a lively & emotional atmosphere for the almost 200 attendees at the hearing. At the root of these tensions was the publishing of an op ed by Gary Shapiro of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) that attempted to slam H.R. 3101 with some tired old accusations that it "would not result in more products being accessible or more innovative designs. Rather, it would result in overly burdensome compliance costs, less variety of products and would hinder United States competitiveness in the global market."
Rep. Markey told Mr. Shapiro what he wrote in the op ed piece was "untrue." Rep Markey noted that the op ed article never mentions that small companies can claim “undue burden”. He also wondered if the CEO of Microsoft and Sony and Hewlett-Packard, all CEA members would be willing to come before Congress and report that their companies cannot afford to make accessible products. Rep Markey asked COAT witness Sgt. Major Acosta what his opinion was of CEA's solution for accessibility -- which is to have a federal Advisory Council on accessibility. Acosta's response was that "it would result in nothing."
For Markey's efforts to counter Shapiro's diatribe, Ranking Member Cliff Stearns (FL) accused Markey of emotionalism. For asking one witness what was his opinion of another's statement, Markey was accused of "slime-ing" the panel by Rep. Terry (NE) who thought it inappropriate to ask witnesses questions like this.
Despite the verbal fireworks, HLAA and ACB were able to provide testimony highlighting the disability perspective. We hope our perspectives will prevail. It would be absolutely fabulous if HR 3101 passes in this year, in time to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Sgt Major Jesse Acosta, Representative Edward Markey (MA), Lise Hamlin, HLAA
Many thanks to COAT for their report on the hearing and for all their Tweets during the hearing! To read their report and see more about COAT, visit: www.coataccess.org/node/9577