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UCPA Comment on Universal Service, 1996 

by Jenifer Simpson, May 1996

Resource Summary Page

 

Before the
FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION
Washington, DC

 

In the Matter of
Federal-State Joint Board
on Universal Service
CC Docket No. 96-43

 

May 3, 1996

 

1

 

 

UCPA's Comments In Reply and In Support of the Comments Made by the American Foundation For the Blind (AFB) on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Regarding Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service and Urging of the Inclusion of Issues of Access by Persons With Disabilities As a Factor in Development of Universal Service Principles

 

To the Commission:

 

United Cerebral Palsy Associations (UCPA) appreciates this new opportunity to offer Comments concerning FCC proceedings on Universal Service as invited in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on a Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service (Federal Register, March 14. 1996).

 

UCPA continues the discussion begun in our Reply Comments submitted in Docket No. 80-286, of December 2, 1994, concerning the FCC proceeding in the matter of Amendment of Part 36 of the Commission's Rules and Establishment of a Joint Board. [Our December comments are attached as Appendix I, Parts A, B and C]. At that time we noted that inclusion of the needs of individuals with disabilities had been omitted so far in the discussion and we are pleased now to see the discussion broadened as a result of enactment of P.L. 104-104, The Telecommunications Act of 1996. This Act includes provisions addressing Principles for Universal Access in addition to important Disability Access safeguards. UCPA responds also to issues raised in AFB's comments. particularly as they address affordability.

 

UCPA is a national nonprofit membership association of 156 affiliates in 44 states that delivers in excess of $400 million of services annually to individuals with disabilities, including many persons with cerebral palsy and similar developmental disabilities. Significantly, two-thirds of individuals with cerebral palsy experience speech disabilities, typically with little or no clear speech. UCPA members are very familiar with the difficulties encountered by persons with speech disabilities as they attempt to utilize existing voicebased telephony. We believe that the telecommunications industry, under the new regulatory regime of P.L. 104-104, must address speech disability in development of principles for universal service so that barriers to communication will fall.

 

On behalf of all persons with cerebral palsy and similar severe disabilities, UCPA urges inclusion of the access needs of persons with speech and other disabilities as a principle in developing universal service because (I) persons with disabilities are often among the poorest in the nation and (II) because the new telecommunications act clearly establishes that such needs are to be addressed both in principle and in practice.

 

 

 

UCPA Reply Comments Page 1


 

I. ACCESS NEEDS OF LOW INCOME CONSUMERS MUST BE ADDRESSED AND WHICH INCLUDES PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES.

 

UCPA notes that the Joint Board and the Commission shall base its policies on several factors according to the requirements of Sec. 254 Universal Service, (B) UNIVERSAL SERVICE PRINCIPLES:

 

" (3) access in rural and high cost areas. -Consumers in all regions of the nation, including low-income consumers and those in rural, insular, and high cost areas, should have access to telecommunications and information services, including interexchange services and advanced telecommunications and information services, that are reasonably comparable to those services provided in urban areas and that are available at rates that are reasonably comparable to rates charged for similar services in urban areas "

 

Although disability is not an indicator of poverty, UCPA reminds the Commission and the Joint Board to note that consumers with disabilities are among the poorest in the nation. Only 23.2 percent of persons with severe disabilities who are working aged (ages 21 to 64) are employed. The unemployment rate among those who are "unable to see words and letters" is 75 percent. Among those who are "unable to hear a normal conversation" 42 per cent are unemployed. And among those with severe speech disability or "unable to have speech understood" 76 percent are unemployed. [See Appendix II, tables from "Americans with Disabilities 1991-92", by the "U.S. Department of Commerce Economics & Statistics Administration, Bureau of the Census report. 1993 and Fact Sheet on Cerebral Palsy from United Cerebral Palsy Medical Foundation showing number of persons with cerebral palsy.]

 

Furthermore, a General Accounting Office (GAO) study released on September 10, 1992 indicated that families headed by a member with a disability remain among the poorest in the nation. While families headed by a member with a disability represent 4.5 percent of all poor families in 1988, their poverty rate remains the highest, at 45 percent. Family composition also has a major effect on poverty status: marriedcouple families without children headed by a person with a disability experience a poverty rate of 18 percent, but single-parent families headed by a person with a disability had a poverty rate of 67 percent, according to these 1988 Bureau of the Census figures. There has been an increase in the number of these families with children who are headed by a single parent with a disability, from 380,000 in 1980 to 421,000 in 1988, and current population trends indicate that this rate is continuing.

 

Although presence of disability is not an indicator of poverty, it is clear that millions of persons with disabilities live in low-income households. As universal service addresses affordability for all households that are low income, UCPA agrees with AFB that the access needs of low-income persons with disabilities must also be considered.

 

UCPA therefore urges the Commission and the Joint Board to determine and include as an ADDITIONAL PRINCIPLE[/1], as permitted by Sec. 254 (B) (7) of P.L. 104-104, the access needs of persons with disabilities as they develop policy for Universal Service.

 

 

 

____________________

1 (7) ADDITIONAL PRINCIPLES.-SUCH OTHER PRINCIPLES AS THE JOINT BOARD AND THE COMMISSION DETERMINE ARE NECESSARY AND APPROPRIATE FOR THE PROTECTION OF THE PUBLIC INTEREST, CONVENIENCE, AND NECESSITY AND ARE CONSISTENT WITH THIS ACT.

 

UCPA Reply Comments Page 2


 

II. ACCESS NEEDS OF INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES ALREADY ESTABLISHED AS A PRINCIPLE WITHIN THE NEW TELECOMMUNICATIONS ACT.

 

The access needs of individuals with disabilities have historically not been addressed in the Communications Act. The newly revised Act, in three additional Sections ("Sec. 255 Access by Persons with Disabilities", "Sec. 256 Coordination for Interconnectivity", and "Sec. 305. Video Programming Accessibility") clearly validates that these needs are to be addressed and in two instances, that is in Sec. 305 in the requirements for closed captioning and video description, indicates exactly how these are to be addressed as Inquiries.

 

Furthermore, the language of Section 255 uses, as its basis. the principles found in P.L. 101-336, The Americans With Disabilities Act, by (A) using the definition of persons with disabilities[/2] and (B), within the framework for development of guidelines and standards development -- required at Sec. 255 (a) E Guidelines -- uses the "if readily achievable" criterion[/3] for purposes of developing regulations. Similarly the requirements for access in video programming in Sec. 305 utilize ADA's "undue burden" criteria and establishes the scope of this standards requirement based on parameters found in ADA's regulatory scheme for assessing undue burden.

 

Use of these terms clearly establishes the ADA's principle of nondiscrimination on the basis of disability as one of the cornerstones in any principles that should he upheld wherever principles are to be addressed in additional sections of P. L. 104-104.

 

UCPA notes that within the Findings section of the ADA, discrimination against individuals with disabilities is identified as persisting in such critical areas as employment, housing, public accommodations, education, transportation, communication, recreation, institutionalization, health services, voting, and access to public services. The nation's telecommunications systems are a vital infrastructure providing the means to securing these aspects of a regular life.

 

Likewise, within the Purposes of the ADA are included stipulations (i) providing for clear, strong consistent, enforceable standards, (ii) ensuring that the Federal Government plays a central role, and (iii) including the power to enforce the fourteenth amendment and to regulate commerce, in order to address the major areas of discrimination faced day-to-day by people with disabilities. [see Appendix III for full text of ADA's Findings and Purposes.]

 

UCPA therefore urges the Commission and the Joint Board to include as an ADDITIONAL PRINCIPLE, the underlying principle of inclusion of persons with disabilities as they develop principles and policy for Universal Service in order to be consistent with principles already invoked by the new Telecommunications Act.

 

 

 

____________________

2 "SEC. 255. ACCESS BY PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES. "(a) DEFINITIONS -AS USED IN THIS SECTION- (1) DISABILITY.-THE TERM 'DISABILITY' HAS THE MEANING GIVEN TO IT BY SECTION 3(2)(A) OF THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT OF 1990 (42 U.S.C. 12102(2)(A)).

 

3 (2) READILY ACHIEVABLE.-THE TERM 'READILY ACHIEVABLE' HAS THE MEANING GIVEN TO IT BY SECTION 301(9) OF THAT ACT (42 U.S.C. 2181(9)).

 

UCPA Reply Comments Page 3


 

UCPA requests, therefore, that the Joint Board consider broad interpretation of such terms as "access", "useability" and "affordability" in development of Universal Service principles. Barriers to access, usability and affordability in telecommunications services must fall for persons with functional differences in speech, hearing, vision, movement, manipulation, and interpretation of information across the age spectrum for universal service to truly reach all Americans.

 

UCPA would be happy to discuss these comments.

 

Sincerely,

 

Jenifer Simpson
Policy Associate
Community Services Division

 

 

Attachments

 

UCPA Reply Comments Page 4

 

 

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