Monday, April 26, 2010

Rep. Frank Wolf Ignorant About HR 3101!

A constituent of Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), shared a very disappointing and extremely ignorant response received from his office in response to a request to co-sponsor HR 3101. Mr. Wolf's office wrote that HR 3101 "would require companies to alter the technology to make those services available to persons with disabilities." Caption Action 2 showed this response to a key HR 3101 advocate, who was appalled by the ignorance shown by Mr. Wolf's office.

Representative Frank Wolf serves Virginia's 10th District, which consists of Loudoun, Clarke, Fauquier, Warren, Frederick, and Prince William counties. At least two of those counties are considered part of Northern Virginia and the metro Washington, DC area.

Tonight, Caption Action 2 emailed Janet Shaffron ( in Wolf's office. The email sent to Shaffron follows, and Rep. Wolf's constituents are encouraged to contact his office (Update: Caption Action 2 received a response from Wolf's office!):
Hello Janet,

One of Mr. Wolf's constituents emailed me about the response received from your office regarding a request for support for HR 3101. According to the response, your office stated that HR 3101 "would require companies to alter the technology to make those services available to persons with disabilities."

I would like to take this opportunity to clarify that misunderstanding. HR 3101 would require that accessibility be taken into consideration in the DESIGN stage of products. In other words, no more leaving deaf and hard of hearing, and blind, people out when new products are introduced.

Furthermore, there would be practically no alteration of technology. Closed captioning is a technology that has existed for years, and is already available on the Internet. Google recently introduced a voice to text recognition technology that generates automatic closed captions for its YouTube website. Some TV broadcasters such as closed caption their programming online. reformats closed caption files so that a good bit of their programming has captions. HR 3101 would recognize the fact that television has moved to the Internet, and extend closed captioning requirements from regular television to the Internet. Only regular TV. Video programming produced by ordinary people, such as a YouTube video of Grandma's grandbaby learning to walk, would not have to be captioned.

Televisions with screens 13 inches or larger are already required to have closed caption display capability. In today's world, that legal requirement is already seriously outdated and does not cover modern video programming devices. HR 3101 would update the law so that all video programming devices would have to be capable of showing closed captions.

HR 3101 would also require simplified access to closed captioning on remote controls and on-screen menus, and would also make the same more accessible for blind people. This does not involve altering technology - it is something as simple as adding an easy to find button or menu option.

The requirement for video description for blind people would simply restore limited access to video programming for blind people. This does not involve alteration of technology in any way; it simply involves someone voicing a description that is "broadcast" over an audio channel.

Last but not least, when companies add or include accessibility in their products, they sell more! There are millions of deaf and hard of hearing people in this country who are not able to purchase or enjoy multimedia products due to the lack of captions. That's a lot of pent-up purchasing power. For example, I have never subscribed to Netflix, but they have finally started to closed caption their streaming videos. Now I am considering becoming a Netflix subscriber. I was planning to buy an iPhone, but after learning that the iPhone does not support Flash and therefore captions on YouTube and other sites don't work, I am considering a Google Android phone instead because the Android does support Flash.

Last but not least, HR 3101 seeks to put an end to the cycle of new technology being introduced, then companies having to "catch up" and "retrofit" for accessibility. I was on Capitol Hill two weeks ago and stopped in Mr. Wolf's office because I am a Northern Virginian. The reason I was on Capitol Hill is because I accompanied the National Association of the Deaf Board of Directors as they met with various Congressmen's staff. In fact, I would like to close by quoting something the NAD Chief Operating Officer told the staff: "Every day that HR 3101 does not pass, is another day we don't have equal access."

I hope that with this information, you will reconsider your constituent's request for cosponsorship of HR 3101. Mr. Wolf would be joining his fellow Republican colleagues, Parker Griffith and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, in cosponsoring HR 3101.

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