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Section 504 Brings More Opportunities (2001 – 2009)

(2001) George W. Bush becomes 43rd President of the US and launches New Freedom Initiative increasing funding and access to assistive technology. Chairman Michael Powell takes over the reins of the FCC. FCC forms new Consumer/Disability Telecommunications Advisory Committee. 7-1-1 goes into effect nationwide along with Speech-to-Speech and Spanish TRS services. FCC extends deadline for coin-sent payphones and digital cell phone compatibility with 9-1-1 and TTYs. FCC reminds long distance companies of their TRS obligations, voice mail and interactive menu industry of their accessi­bility obligations, and television broadcasters of their emergency news accessibility requirements. FCC approves AOL/Time Warner merger with the condition that future versions of AOL’s popular instant messaging (IM) software must be interoper­able with competing IM software as long as they retain dominant market share. Section 508 becomes effective requiring that the federal government procure informa­tion technology products and services that are acces­sible to federal employees with disabilities as well as the public seeking government services. The US Depart­ment of Justice reports success in removing barriers to local government services as part of its ongoing Project Civic Access. Congress allocates funding for pilot CART training program to train more broadcast captioners.

(2002) The FCC authorizes recovery of costs for all Internet based TRS calls, leading to an explosion of IP-Relay and Video Relay options. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) office in Ohio faces complaints from deaf people regarding unanswered TTY calls. Ten thousand people attend Deaf Way II Conference in Washington, DC. Former TDI Board Member Pam Holmes and former FCC Commissioner William Kennard join Gallaudet Univer­sity’s Board of Trustees. Justin Dart, international dis­ability rights leader and Father of the ADA completes his mission and dies. FCC receives report from Alliance of Telecommunication Industry Solutions (ATIS) on successful rollout of digital handsets compatible with TTY and VCO calls. Connecticut scientist charged in $7.9 million scheme involving fraudulent TRS operation. CART upheld as reasonable accommodation under the ADA. Video description dealt setback when DC Appeals Court ruled that the FCC had no authority to implement regulations. Deanna Bray stars in F.B. Eye, a television series based on Susan Thomas’ real-life experiences while working for the FBI.

(2003) FCC approves Ultratec’s CapTel as an enhanced voice-carry-over TRS service and other TRS features such as Call-Waiting; Call-Release; 900-number Dialing and other SS7 platform features. For emergen­cies, TRS calls to 9-1-1 must be routed to the nearest appropriate PSAP, not necessarily the geographically closest PSAP. FCC established an interim reimbursement rate for Video Relay Service providers less than NECA’s proposal. Manufacturers and service providers required to offer hearing aid compatible wireless handsets within three years. AOL gets approval from FCC to upgrade AIM with video because of declining market share. Christy Smith, a deaf woman from Colorado shows her mettle on Survivor, a popular reality TV show. Another new prime-time TV show, Threat Matrix, premieres with deaf actress, Shoshannah Stern.

(2004) FCC grants Hamilton and Sprint’s request for waiver of certain portions of VRS requirements. FCC authorizes IP-Relay as an interim service and determines that CapTel is an optional enhanced VCO TRS service, allowing providers to recover costs. FCC supports Sprint’s position that callers who access relay via 711 to make 900 number calls be referred to a special number to reduce fraud. FCC declines to adopt a 711 Outreach and public education plan. FCC denies request to bar legal-related VRS calls since state certifi­cation requirements for legal interpreters do not override federally mandated requirements. FCC continues to decline captioning waivers from television program producers. FCC clarifies the types of events covered by its emergency bulletin accessibility require­ments to include acts of terrorism and man-made disas­ters. FCC allows 9-1-1 calls to be routed to most appro­priate public safety facility. Congress passes IDEA reauthorization – including regulations about the use of electronic books and other accessible teaching materials.

(2005) FCC instructs industry to provide Video Relay Services (VRS) 24 hours 7 days effective January 1, 2006. Some consumers express frustration with VRS providers that practice ‘blocking’ measures, pre­venting one from accessing another VRS provider via a certain device or software. FCC issued a rulemak­ing to solicit input from consumers and industry on TV captioning quality issues based on the joint petition filed by TDI, NAD, DHHCAN, ALDA and HLAA. Kevin J. Martin succeeds Michael K. Powell as FCC Chairman. Claude Stout appointed to serve as Chair of the Disability Access Working Group, one of the subcommittees of the FCC Consumer Advisory Commit­tee.

(2006) Uncertainty arises when the FCC issued two decisions in August and September. In August, the FCC clarified an earlier clarification to the effect that broad­casters in the top 25 markets were not required to cap­tion emergency announcements if they were unable to do so in good faith and listed steps that broadcasters should take to ensure full coverage and compliance with regulations. In September, the FCC issued nearly 500 waivers to nonprofit video programmers granting perma­nent exemptions and bypassing public comment periods and other protocols. in effect, creating a new category based on undue burden. TDI and other organizations filed an appli­cation for review in both cases, resulting in further policy modi­fications balancing consumer and broadcaster interests. FCC determines that Internet Protocol (IP) captioned telephone service (IP CTS) is a reimbursable TRS expense, which eliminates the cost of purchasing specialized telephone equipment and making it more appealing for employers to accom­modate workers ability to answer phones. Fraud and illegal use of IP-Relay and Video Relay force service providers, government officials and advocates to reexamine issues of operator (CA) transpar­ency.

(2007) Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Tech­nology (COAT) formed to address technology gaps as the nation migrates from its legacy infrastructure to Inter­net-based digital technologies. Within months, more than 180 national organizations signed on with many more international, state and local affiliates. Reflecting the urgent need for access, the US House released draft legislation for the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act for People with Disabilities

(2008) The ADA Amendments Act becomes law, reversing the detrimental impact of previous US Supreme Court decisions on people with disabilities in the workplace and other gaps in the landmark anti-discrimination law. The FCC orders television broadcasters to post complaint contact information in an effort to streamline the complaint procedures for closed captioning problems. Users of Internet-based relay services come closer to functional equivalency as a result of the FCC’s mandate to provide 10-Digit numbers.

(2009) Karen Peltz Strauss and the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT) continue to push for the passage of The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, also known as H.R. 3101. Despite the massive national attention devoted to other issues, such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the economy and health care reform, the bill has garnered more than 20 co-sponsors since its introduction by Representative Edward J. Markey (D-Massachusetts). The Airline Carrier Accessibility Act receives its first major regulatory overhaul, resulting in positive changes for deaf and hard of hearing travelers. TDI commends the IRS for producing online video clips sharing tax tips in sign language with captioning and voiceover covering various tax topics.