By Susan Mazrui, AT&T Director of Public Policy

On Monday, I had the privilege to participate in events led by the White House, in partnership with the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Commerce, highlighting the 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the role that technology has played in providing a level playing field for people with disabilities.  As always, Kareem Dale’s remarks were on target but it was his personal experience that speaks most strongly to the fact that, with access to technology, people with disabilities need know no limits.

More than twenty years ago, I first heard about a new bill being circulated that would address the civil rights of people with disabilities. I was writing the final research paper for my master’s degree on a computer with one of the first screen readers ever commercially offered. As a blind person, it was the first time I could edit what I wrote. This was a huge advancement.

Today, thanks to the commitment made to access and to innovation by individuals like Bonnie O’Day, Karen Strauss and Jim Fruchterman, and companies like AT&T, Apple and Research in Motion, I have more power in my little cell phone, even better access to information and more ways to communicate.  I can choose from hundreds of thousands of books without having to ask someone to record it for me. I can access government sites and learn about important activities in the community. I can text my daughter who lives across the country from me – who even thought of texting then?  I still can’t get her to listen to my voicemail messages before calling back but that is a generational issue, not an access one. 

It was heartening to see the spirit of the ADA reflected in comments from Administration officials, like U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra and Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra, who clearly understand the relationship between technology and full inclusion of people with disabilities in schools and the workplace.  More importantly are the actions taken every day to promote access, including support for Section 508, grants to expand broadband adoption for people who are deaf and efforts to bring together industry, community and government to brainstorm new and innovative ways to challenge what technology can do to improve access.

I was pleased to listen to FCC Chairman Genachowski’s remarks yesterday and the commitment the Commission has made to full inclusion of people with disabilities in the adoption of broadband.

Also on Monday, at the FCC’s technology expo, AT&T demonstrated technologies that our amazing team in AT&T Labs have developed to improve accessibility, including speech recognition and text-to-speech, as well as emerging devices that provide built-in access for people with disabilities.

This Friday, AT&T is sponsoring an event (Apps4Access) on Capitol Hill by the Committee on Disability Power and Pride (CDPP) that will highlight the important role applications play in improving access.  This public event will include leaders in the disability community, developers of accessible apps and technology experts.  It will be an opportunity to showcase cool technologies that have been harnessed in ways that  provide greater access for people with disabilities.

While there is much work ahead, I am proud to live in a country that introduced the first civil rights law for people with disabilities, and I am proud to work for a company that uses innovation to help address the spirit of the ADA.

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