October 30, 2019 - 9:30 am
By Suzy Rosen Singleton | Chief, Disability Rights Office, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau

The 2019 National Disability Employment Awareness Month theme is “The Right Talent, Right Now.”  The FCC has long benefited from the talents and diverse viewpoints that come from hiring people with disabilities.  Applying the skills, knowledge, and contributions of these staff members has enabled the FCC to be a leader in workplace accessibility, with state-of-the-art equipment, policies and procedures to ensure its programs and services are accessible to both its employees and the public. 

In celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, the Commission thanks its staff members with and without disabilities for their ongoing contributions to the agency’s mission of increasing the accessibility of evolving communications services and technologies for all, including people with disabilities.  I’m honored and humbled to work with my colleagues in the agency’s Disability Rights Office, many of whom are persons with disabilities, in leading the way in this effort.

Through our policy work, we address issues such as hearing aid compatibility, access to Internet browsers built into mobile phones, and accessible video programming.  We help to ensure access to televised emergency information, closed captioning for TV and Internet video programming, audio description, and accessible user interfaces, text menus, and program guides.  We also work with the Commission’s Disability Advisory Committee, a diverse body of stakeholders that provides advice and recommendations to the FCC on a wide array of disability issues.

The FCC is charged with ensuring that telecommunications relay services are available to Americans who are deaf, hard of hearing, deafblind, or have speech disabilities.  Over the years, we have monitored, modernized, and enforced rules to ensure appropriate relay services are available to the public.  These services, including video relay services, play a critical role in empowering people with disabilities to enjoy full employment opportunities.

The FCC also oversees the National DeafBlind Equipment Distribution Program, which provides equipment needed to make telecommunications, advanced communications, and the Internet accessible to low-income individuals who have both significant vision loss and significant hearing loss.  Dozens of stories describing how this program positively impacts the lives of those with disabilities are available at http://www.icanconnect.org/news.

As a fully accessible agency, the FCC has taken innovative steps to advance accessible communications  programs and activities, as well as its electronic and information technologies, for the public.  We staff an American Sign Language (ASL) Consumer Support Line.  When it launched in June 2014, it was the first of its kind in the federal government.  The number of calls from ASL-fluent consumers has increased three-fold over the last five years, and calls are being handled and resolved faster than ever.

More recently, the FCC fully integrated ASL direct video calling services into its Consumer Complaint Center, using an open-source software solution that FCC engineers helped develop to enable increased efficiency in serving ASL-fluent consumers.  Direct video calling has the potential to make government and other organizations more accessible, and to create job opportunities for people with disabilities who are fluent in ASL.

Additionally, the FCC annually recognizes products, services, standards and other innovative developments that improve the experience of people with disabilities in telecommunications and technology through the Chairman’s Awards for Advancements in Accessibility. One 2019 Awardee created an extraordinary advance in accessible workplace technology, using text-to-speech functionality to provide audible access to workplace phones for employees who are blind or visually impaired.

Right now, millions of Americans with disabilities can contribute the right talent to make a difference in the workforce, and we at the FCC are proud to do our part to make the workplace accessible.  Learn more about the FCC’s work and find in-depth information on accessibility issues at https://www.fcc.gov/accessibility.