Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind Act of 2010

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Content Copyright © 2010 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.
This blog was originally posted under: Accessibility

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.