Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 — landmark legislation that ensures equal opportunity and accessibility for the 54 million, or one out of five, Americans living with some form of a disability. We have seen terrific progress over the past twenty years and there is still much work to be done.
One bright spot where new tools are being developed to help increase opportunity and independence for those with disabilities is in wireless. With technology leaping forward at warp speed, mobile innovators are developing new products, services and applications to both anticipate and meet evolving consumer demands and particularly the needs of those with disabilities.
For example, a smartphone uses voice activation on a mapping application to guide a visually impaired person walking down the street. Mobile screen readers narrate everything from the day's newspaper stories to email messages. And new mobile tools help distinguish between $5 and $10 dollar bills and cans of peas or corn on the pantry shelf.
Mobile Future's recently released white paper titled, "Mobile Ability: The Transformational Impact of Wireless Innovation for People with Disabilities" takes a closer look at how wireless technology can improve the quality of life and enhance inclusiveness for individuals with disabilities. The report explores how important the intersection of mobile innovation and broadband technology is for people with disabilities in the areas of employment, health care, education and emergency response.
Mobile technology has revolutionized communications worldwide, and in doing so, has reshaped the way society functions as a whole. Robust investment in wireless has allowed innovators to dream big and invent affordable and accessible technologies that provide consumers with advancements and opportunities never dreamed possible.
The ADA was a beacon of hope for millions of Americans and led to countless opportunities. But while we celebrate this monumental legislation this week, we must not forget that there is still more policymakers can do.
To help spur even more potential mobile solutions for those with disabilities, we must free up more spectrum to accommodate the looming mobile data crunch. We also need to remove barriers to technology like high taxes and fees on communications services. We must continue to encourage the strong collaboration between innovators and the disability community on mobile technologies. And, finally, policymakers must support efforts to modernize local 911 infrastructures.
As the FCC and Congress move forward to implement the National Broadband Plan, policymakers must strive to keep the goals of the ADA in mind and continue to uphold the wise regulatory policies that fuel innovation, competition and a consumer-driven mobile future for all.
Jonathan Spalter, chairman of Mobile Future, has been founding CEO of leading technology, media, and research companies, including Public Insight, Snocap, and Atmedica Worldwide. He served as an advisor to and spokesperson for Vice President Al Gore during the Clinton administration.
Mobile Future is a 501(c)(4) coalition comprised of and supported by technology businesses, non-profit organizations and individuals dedicated to advocating for an environment in which innovations in wireless technology and services are enabled and encouraged. For a full list of members and sponsors and to learn more about the coalition, go to www.mobilefuture.org.