Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind Act of 2010

Peter Abrahams

Written By:
Published: 12th February, 2010
Content Copyright © 2010 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

In January 2010, a new act was submitted to Congress in the United States of America, which, if it becomes law, may have a profound affect on accessibility of technology devices.

The brief description of the Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind Act of 2010 is "To provide for a study and report on access by blind consumers to certain electronic devices and to provide for the establishment of minimum nonvisual access standards for such devices and for the establishment of an office within the Department of Commerce to enforce such standards, and for other purposes."

It appears that the major intent of this act is to ensure that consumer devices and office technology do not only use touchscreens for their operation. The problem being that touchscreen devices by themselves are unusable by people who are blind or have severe vision impairments. At the moment there is a grave danger that the continued move of technology towards touchscreens as the major user interface will greatly reduce the independence of disabled people. In many cases putting up a barrier that did not exist in earlier generations of the technology.

However, on closer reading of the draft act it would appear that it could be used to influence the design of any user interface. For example it mentions the need for kiosks to be accessible and these are normally only a specialised form of web browser. Therefore I think that this new act could be used to ensure the accessibility of any website.

The only concern I have with the wording is that it only considers the problems of people with vision impairments and does not consider the accessibility problems of other users with disabilities. Maybe it should be retitled "Bill of Rights for Accessible Technology".

If the act is passed then, in about three years time, manufacturers and suppliers will have a legal responsibility to provide user interfaces that are accessible by people with vision impairments. Presumably this will apply to any organisation selling to the American market. The act provides the ability for enforcement via civil penalties by the state or damages claims by individuals.

In the UK we are coming up to elections and party manifestos. Could the the groups lobbying for equal rights for people with disabilities persuade the major parties to include a similar provision in their manifestos? Both for the benefit of our own citizens but also to ensure that our manufacturers are able to sell into the US in the future.

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