A Search for Innovative Solutions that Inspire

One of the many reasons I chose to take a job in public service at the FCC is the Commission’s commitment to supporting the development and adoption of accessible communications technology. As a volunteer with the KEEN (Kids Enjoy Exercise Now) program — working with young athletes with a range of cognitive and physical disabilities — I see firsthand how alternative solutions can lead to personal breakthroughs.

The FCC encourages and promotes accessible technology solutions to benefit people who face telecommunications barriers due to disabilities. These people include the more than 28 million Americans living with cognitive disabilities, which may include learning disabilities, distractibility issues and memory problems that can result from conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, brain injury, or autism. They may experience long and short term memory impairments, reasoning deficits or difficulty in focusing on large amounts of information, any of which can dramatically affect their ability to use telecommunications technology.

People with cognitive disabilities are our friends, our neighbors, and our colleagues. They make valuable contributions to their communities and deserve the dignity that comes with being meaningfully integrated into our rapidly advancing technological ecosystem.

Speaking recently to technologists who are creating new tools for diverse populations of people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler urged them to remember: “Accessibility must be a first thought, not an afterthought.”

That thought inspired an expanded focus on nominations for technology innovations that specifically address the telecommunications needs of people with cognitive disabilities for this year’s Chairman’s Awards for Advancement in Accessibility.

Moreover, we have all seen how advances in accessibility make technology more useable for all people.  Television captions, automatic door openers, sidewalk ramps, and adjustable vanity mirrors were designed with accessibility in mind, but are appreciated by all.  We are certain that advances in telecommunication accessibility for people with cognitive disabilities will help every user of these technologies.

We are encouraging technology designers and developers to share their solutions that focus on the telecommunication needs of people with differing functional requirements, using design principles that are mindful of users’ attention focus, problem-solving and comprehension issues to achieve accessibility in ways that are simple and clear, consistent, multi-modal and error-tolerant.

Nominations for all Chairman’s AAA awards, including those for innovations that address people with cognitive disabilities, are due March 31. To learn more about the Chairman’s AAA nominating process, go to www.fcc.gov/chairmansaaa.

Based on past awards, expectations are high. Since the awards were introduced in 2011, we have had the privilege of showcasing winners who have harnessed the power of broadband to deliver accessible products, services, technologies and practices that can enhance and improve quality of life for countless individuals and families.

At the FCC, we’re proud of our continuing commitment to promote accessible technology solutions we know have the potential to ensure equal access and opportunity for everyone, including people with cognitive disabilities.


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