WASHINGTON – The House on Monday celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act by approving legislation assuring that the disabled have full access to the Internet and television.
"The ADA mandated physical ramps into buildings," said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., sponsor of the bill. "Today, individuals with disabilities need online ramps to the Internet so they can get to the Web from wherever they happen to be."
The bill, which passed 348-23 and now moves to the Senate, takes such steps as making it easier for the blind to access the Internet from smart phones, providing deaf people with the ability to watch new TV programs online with captions included, and requiring that telecom equipment used to make calls over the Internet be compatible with hearing aids.
The measure also:
—Gives the blind a fuller TV experience through audible descriptions of on-screen action.
—Makes cable TV program guides and selection menus accessible to people with vision loss.
—Mandates that remote controls have buttons or similar devices to easily access the closed captioning on broadcast and pay TV.
—Provides financial support to help the low-income disabled buy accessible Internet technology.
The legislation does not require manufacturers and service providers to install particular technology, but it does set new federal standards that the telecommunications industry will follow.
The House took up the measure immediately after paying tribute to the achievements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the landmark bill ensuring the disabled equal access to public places that President George H.W. Bush signed into law two decades ago.
"Fifty million Americans have taken advantage of the ADA's promise and have lived richer lives as a result," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
Presiding over the debates in the speaker's chair was Rep. James Langevin, D-R.I., the first quadriplegic to serve in the House. It was the first time Langevin, a five-term congressman, had served as speaker pro tempore.
At the White House, President Barack Obama marked the anniversary by promising to boost government efforts at recruiting, hiring and retaining people with physical and mental limitations. He signed an executive order requiring the federal personnel agency to develop model guidelines for hiring people with disabilities.
Obama also announced that the Justice Department is publishing stronger rules to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities by state and local government agencies and private businesses.
The bill is H.R. 3101.