FCC says disabled need better access to broadband

Could the Internet revolution -- or at least the broadband version -- be skipping over the disabled?

A new report from the Federal Communications Commission is offering hints of that it is.

It says that while the disabled have traditionally been early technology adopters because it helped them overcome difficulties, they seem to be left out of much of the latest broadband revolution.

According to the FCC, about 42% of Americans with disabilities had broadband at home as of late last year. That number was well below the 65% national average for all Americans. Put another way, while 24% of Americans had a disability, 39% of those with one didn't have broadband connections.

The FCC drew its figures from a survey it conducted from October to November 2009 to prepare its National Broadband Plan. That plan, released earlier this year, offered recommendations to speed up internet connections and provide more broadband service all over the country.

The disabled study examined further one of the groups that aren't being served so well.
The FCC said that like people who don't have broadband, 37% of disabled point to the cost (compared with 35% for those without a disability.), but the disabled also had problems with lack of training and website designs.

The FCC said some sites make video and audio vital, then don't caption it. Others use small text that can be difficult to read. Finally, others use technologies that conflict with "assistive technologies."

"Mainstream equipment and device manufacturers often do not consider accessibility issues when they design and develop their broadband products," said the study. "People with disabilities face additional barriers not faced by others, including inaccessible hardware, software, services and content."

The study also said the government itself can be a problem. It said Medicare won't pay for some technologies that could help disabled people in using the Web even as it pays for much more expensive technology difficult to use on the Web. There were also concerns about whether the government is providing enough specialized training.

Joel Gurin, the chief of the FCC's Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, called the study's figures "astounding."

"This is not acceptable, and we are implementing an ambitious accessibility agenda to ensure that people with disabilities are not left behind," he said in a statement.

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