Assistive Technology Re-authorization Act Introduced in Senate

Casey, Collins Introduce Bill to Expand Access to Assistive Technology for Seniors and People with Disabilities

Legislation Would Help Seniors and People With Disabilities Maintain Independence

US Capitol DomeWashington, D.C. – Today, June 13, 2019, U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Susan Collins (R-ME), the Ranking Member and Chairman of the Special Committee on Aging, introduced the 21st Century Assistive Technology Act that would increase access to assistive technology—devices or services that help seniors and people with disabilities to maintain their independence and live where they choose.  The bill, which comes following a May 22nd hearing in the Aging Committee on the topic, would also help reduce the low employment and high poverty rates of older adults and people with disabilities by helping them live independently and maintain employment.

“Assistive technology helps millions of people live independently, remain engaged in their community and improves the quality of life for seniors and people with disabilities,” said Senator Casey.  “It is important that we update this bill to support the advances in assistive technology over the last 15 years, so that those who need it can be full participants in every aspect of their lives.”

“As our population ages, the need for care and support is increasing,” said Senator Collins.  “Advances in technology are working to bridge the ‘care gap,’ improving function in activities of daily living, helping to manage multiple chronic conditions, reducing risk of hazards, and making homes safer for seniors.  The 21st Century Assistive Technology Act would help to ensure that seniors continue to have access to these life-changing technologies to help them maintain their independence.”

The 21st Century Assistive Technology Act (S.1835) Act would update the Assistive Technology Act by clarifying that the program serves all people with disabilities, including veterans and older adults who developed disabilities later in life. The Assistive Technology Act would also increase the funding authorized for programs that serve rural areas. Assistive technology refers to any piece of equipment, product or service that helps someone with a disability or functional limitation accomplish their daily needs such as wheelchair ramps, hearing aids, screen readers and even smart phones.

This bill is supported by the Assistive Technology Act Programs, the Association of University Centers on Disabilities, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the American Association of People with Disabilities, The Arc of the United States, the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools and CAST.

Please contact Senator Collins office to receive an accessible version of the proposed 21st Century Assistive Technology Act.

Senate Hearing Focuses on Assistive Technology

Woman preparing a mealOn May 22nd, the United States Senate Special Committee on Ageing held a hearing which discussed How (Assistive) Technology Can Help Maintain Health and Quality of Life.

Committee Chair Maine Senator Susan Collins noted in her welcoming remarks, “…with 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day, and one out of five Americans set to join this group by 2035, we are in the midst of a major demographic shift. The fastest growing segment of our population are Americans age 85 and older. While aging brings opportunity, it also comes with increased risk of multiple and interacting health conditions that can lead to disability, at times requiring long-term care, and making it more difficult to age at home.” She further noted, “Advances in technology are working to bridge the “care gap,” improving function in activities of daily living, helping to manage multiple chronic conditions, reducing the risk of hazards, and making homes safer for seniors. Not only has technology helped seniors age in place, but it is also making it possible for individuals to move out of nursing homes or other institutionalized settings back into their own homes.”

Witnesses at the hearing included:

Joseph Coughlin, PhD, Director, MIT AgeLab, Cambridge, MA; Cara McCarty, Curatorial/Director, Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, New York; Brenda Gallant, RN, Executive Director, ME Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, Augusta, Maine, and; Robert (Bob) Mecca, Executive Director, Life and Independence for Today (LIFT), St. Marys, PA.

Use this link for more information and to view a recording of this hearing…

 

Maine CITE Celebrates National Assistive Technology Awareness Day

US Capitol DomeMarch 27, 2019 is National Assistive Technology Awareness Day, a day to celebrate and recognize assistive technology (AT) specialists for their dedication to serving people with disabilities who need AT to meet their individual need.

AT enables people with disabilities of all ages to be included in their communities, in school and at work. AT devices and services are necessities for millions of people with disabilities. The availability of AT in the workplace supports self-sufficiency, work productivity and is critical to the employment of people with disabilities and older adults.

Serving the citizens of Maine since 1989, the Maine CITE Program offers services which help get AT into the hands of Maine people with disabilities, seniors, families, caregivers, educators, rehab professionals and therapists. Maine CITE also supports a large inventory with hundreds of AT devices available to explore and borrow. Maine CITE works with service providers including Spurwink ALLTECH, UMaine Farmington, CARES Inc and Pine Tree Society to manage the state AT inventory. For details go to AT4Maine.org

Across the country State AT programs, like the Maine CITE Program, support a wide range of services that include AT device recycling/reuse, device demonstration and loan programs that inform decision making and provide short-term loans of AT devices to individuals, employers, and public agencies. Maine CITE also provides information about AT funding, providers and training events.

Read the Resolution on Congress.gov

 

New White House Report Documents Emerging Tech for Seniors

From the White House, March 5, 2019:

Senior with assistantEvery day, new innovations help make life a little easier for older Americans, whether it’s video chatting with family or monitoring their heart rate with a smart watch. Cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence, autonomous transportation systems, the internet of things, and next-generation wireless networks hold significant promise for enhancing independence, safety, overall mental and physical well-being, and health of older generations. The number of Americans over the age of 65 is growing rapidly and may reach nearly a quarter of the population in the next forty years. With an aging population, the Nation must proactively develop strategies, tools, and recommendations to enable older adults to live healthy, independent lives for as long as possible. Accordingly, the Trump Administration has made finding and assessing potential solutions for an aging population a research and development (R&D) priority.

Today, the Trump Administration released a new report, Emerging Technologies to Support an Aging Population, identifying innovations that have the potential to improve quality of life for all Americans, particularly those who live with physical or cognitive burdens due to aging or disability. Importantly, the report also identifies the R&D needed to bring these innovations to fruition.

Drafted by experts convened from across the Federal Government by the National Science and Technology Council, the report highlights six key ways technology has the potential to help Americans live longer, healthier, and more independent lives. These include:

  1. Key Activities of Daily Living. Technology could help older Americans perform many of the activities that comprise independent living, such as eating well, maintaining good hygiene, and managing medications. The report recommends key R&D to advance smart home technology and innovations that promote faster healing and safer, more accurate medication delivery.
  2. Cognitive Skills. Cognitive changes are common during aging and can eventually affect one’s ability to live independently and safely. Further R&D holds the promise of advancing technology to help older adults monitor changes in their cognition, provide mental training to reduce the impact of these changes, and create systems that help individuals and families maintain financial security.
  3. Communication and Social Connectivity. Older adults may face communication challenges as a result of hearing loss, social isolation, and loneliness, especially in economically distressed and rural areas. Technology has the potential to improve hearing abilities, and strengthen connections to family, loved ones, and communities.
  4. Personal Mobility. To live independently, older Americans must be able to move around their homes and throughout the larger community with comfort and ease. Technology could help older adults stay mobile and safely continue to perform key activities necessary for day-to-day life.
  5. Access to Transportation. True independence requires mobility outside of one’s home and immediate neighborhood. Transportation needs and limitations vary depending on how a person’s physical and cognitive abilities change with age. For examplesome older adults may be able to drive but require vehicle modification and/or advanced technologies to assist them. New technology could also help older adults more safely and easily use public transportation. Additional R&D into assistive systems that help keep drivers safe and technologies that support easy access to public transportation will allow older Americans to remain connected to social, health, and business facilities.
  6. Access to Healthcare. Routine access to healthcare plays a critical role in helping older adults stay active and independent as they age. The report highlights the need for enhanced R&D into technology that could help align and coordinate care, and to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of healthcare services.

In addition to the six primary areas listed above, the report recommends cross-cutting themes that are critical to the widespread adoption of new technologies among older Americans, including intuitive, user-friendly designs as well as addressing privacy and security considerations.

Getting these cutting-edge innovations into homes and communities will require R&D across a wide range of disciplines, spanning the public, private, and philanthropic sectors. But the potential is profound; Resilient, cost-effective materials could keep surfaces free of bacteria, innovative sensor and actuator systems could keep people comfortable during long periods in bed, new household robots could assist with food preparation, and much more. The Emerging Technologies to Support an Aging Population report not only identifies areas of technology that can significantly impact Americans’ quality of life as they age, but also recommends areas of R&D where public and private sector efforts can help bring those innovations to life.

Our Nation stands on the verge of truly transformational breakthroughs in technology that will shape all aspects of our daily lives for years to come. President Donald J. Trump has led his Cabinet in the expansion of rural broadband so older Americans in all parts of our Nation can benefit from these technologies. The Trump Administration understands that targeted R&D combined with the removal of regulatory barriers can lead to untold innovation and discovery. This report serves as a guide to the public and private sector to ensure aging Americans reap all the benefits of emerging technologies on the horizon. The rising tide of 21st century innovation should lift up Americans of all generations and all walks of life.

Use this link to download the entire 30-page report Emerging Technologies to Support an Aging Population– PDF

New law promises to make federal websites more accessible

From the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT):

The Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA)

US Capitol DomeThe year 2018 closed with the passage of the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (21C-IDEA) in December, which promises to make federal websites more accessible, user friendly, and secure.

This new law requires federal agencies to modernize the websites and digital services they offer, according to eight specific criteria, including accessibility for people with disabilities. All federal agencies in the Executive Branch must already meet the accessibility standards of Rehabilitation Act Section 508, as codified in the Section 508 Rule published by the U.S. Access Board.  However, 21C-IDEA is noteworthy for several reasons, including its emphasis on increasing agencies’ compliance with Section 508.

Within 180 days of the law’s passage, all new and redesigned federal websites must comply with the new criteria, and agencies must submit plans to Congress for how they will accelerate the use of electronic signatures.

21C-IDEA also requires federal chief information officers (CIOs) to coordinate with other executives and ensure that departments plan adequate funding and resources to execute these requirements.

The provisions include several significant requirements to make federal websites more user friendly, usable, and robust for all users, including a requirement that digital formats of all paper-based forms be available within two years. Under the requirements of 21C-IDEA, federal websites must:

  • provide a customized digital experience to individual users
  • maintain a consistent appearance
  • be fully functional and usable on common mobile devices
  • use an industry-standard secure connection
  • contain a search function that allows users to easily search content intended for public use

These user-friendly requirements overlap substantially with principles of Universal Design, and their use by federal agencies should help make federal websites easier to use for everyone, including people with disabilities.

 

Access Board Issues Correction to ICT Refresh Final Rule

US Access Board logoFrom the US Access Board:

On January 22, the Access Board issued a correction to its updated accessibility requirements for information and communication technology (ICT) to restore provisions on TTY access that were inadvertently omitted. The action applies to the final rule the Board published last January to jointly refresh its Rehabilitation Act (Section 508) standards for ICT in the federal sector and its Communications Act (Section 255) guidelines for telecommunications equipment.

The original Section 508 standards and Section 255 guidelines required that devices with two-way voice communication support use of TTY devices which provide text communication across phone connections for persons with hearing or speech impairments. In its ICT refresh, the Board had proposed replacing this provision with a requirement for real-time text (RTT) functionality, a new technology with significant advantages over TTYs. RTT transmits text in virtual real-time as each character is typed, whereas TTY messages can only be sent individually in sequence. Also, RRT technology is directly compatible with wireless and Internet protocol (IP) based networks.

In finalizing its rule, however, the Board chose to reserve the RTT requirement because the Federal Communications Commission had initiated its own rulemaking to address RTT functionality over TTY compatibility in IP-based telecommunication environments. In doing so, the Board intended to add the original TTY provision back into the rule, but the necessary language was unintentionally left out. The recent correction restores the TTY requirement with minor editorial changes for consistency with the new format and terminology of the updated requirements (Section 412.8). It also corrects a couple typographical errors in other sections of the rule. The corrections become effective March 23, 2018 without further action unless adverse comments are received.

For further information, visit the Board’s website or contact Timothy Creagan at (202) 272-0016 (v), (202) 272-0074 (TTY) or Bruce Bailey at (202) 272-0024 (v), (202) 272-0070 (TTY); email: 508@access-board.gov

New guidance on IDEA

From the U.S. Department of Education

US Department of Education logoThe U.S. Department of Education (on 12/12/2016) made available to the public final regulations under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), aimed at promoting equity by targeting widespread disparities in the treatment of students of color with disabilities. The regulations will address a number of issues related to significant disproportionality in the identification, placement, and discipline of students with disabilities based on race or ethnicity. The Department is also releasing a new Dear Colleague Letter addressing racial discrimination.

Children of color—particularly African-American and American Indian youth—are identified as students with disabilities at substantially higher rates than their peers. It is critical to ensure that overrepresentation is not the result of misidentification, including both over- and under-identification, which can interfere with a school’s ability to provide children with the appropriate educational services required by law. It is equally important to ensure that all children who are suspected of having a disability are evaluated and, as appropriate, receive needed special education and related services in the most appropriate setting and with the most appropriate discipline strategies employed.

This rule sets a common standard for identifying significant disproportionality in representation of students within special education, segregated school settings, and in receipt of disciplinary actions and ensures that school districts where disproportionality is found carefully review their policies and practices to determine root causes and whether changes are needed. The final rule ensures that school districts explore and address situations where the cause of significant disproportionality is due to under-identification of a group as well as over-identification.

Meanwhile, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is also releasing a new policy document to support educators and administrators as they work to identify students’ need for special education [PDF]. This new policy document was created to remind states, school districts, and public schools of their legal obligation to prevent discrimination on the basis of race in special education. OCR’s enforcement experience suggests both over-identification and under-identification based on race are occurring in schools.

For more information: please read – FACT SHEET: Equity in IDEA…

Movie Captioning and Audio Description Final Rule

Icon - reel of filmFrom ADA.gov…

On November 21, 2016, Attorney General Loretta Lynch signed a Final Rule revising the Justice Department’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) title III regulation to further clarify a public accommodation’s obligation to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services for people with disabilities.

The Final Rule requires require movie theaters to:

  1. Have and maintain the equipment necessary to provide closed movie captioning and audio description at a movie patron’s seat whenever showing a digital movie produced, distributed, or otherwise made available with these features;
  2. Provide notice to the public about the availability of these features; and
  3. Ensure that theater staff is available to assist patrons with the equipment before, during, and after the showing of a movie with these features.

Title III of the ADA requires public accommodations, including movie theaters, to provide effective communication through the use of auxiliary aids and services.  This rulemaking specifies requirements that movie theaters must meet to satisfy their effective communication obligations to people with hearing and vision disabilities unless compliance results in an undue burden or a fundamental alteration.  For a summary of the Final Rule and its requirements, see the “Final Rule Questions & Answers.”

An advance copy of the Final Rule is available at this link… 

The official version of the Final Rule will be published in the Federal Register, and the Final Rule will take effect 45 days after publication.

Read more about these new rules…


Photo credit: Image in public domain by Pixabay.

Resources Available on Voting and Polling Place Accessibility

From the US Access Board:

The word "vote" with a wheelchair embeddedVoting is a fundamental and protected right for all citizens, including those with disabilities. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other laws, people with disabilities must have full and equal opportunities to vote. The Department of Justice (DOJ), which regulates and enforces ADA mandates that apply to state and local governments, offers several guides on the subject. These include the “ADA Checklist for Polling Places,” [PDF] a 25-page resource DOJ recently updated that explains what makes a polling place accessible from entry onto the site to voting areas. It also recommends design remedies and provides a survey checklist for evaluating polling place accessibility. Other resources from DOJ include a bulletin [PDF]  that provides solutions to common access problems at polling places and a guide [PDF] to federal laws that protect the rights of voters with disabilities.

In addition to the ADA, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 established requirements for voting systems used in Federal elections and requires access to polling places and voting systems for persons with disabilities. Under the law, each precinct in the country must have at least one accessible voting machine or system so that people with disabilities, including those with vision impairments, are afforded the same opportunity for participation, including privacy and independence, available to other voters. The Election Assistance Commission (EAC), which implements HAVA and issues guidance on meeting the requirements of the law, including guidelines for voting systems, is another key resource on accessible voting. The EAC offers a “BeReady16” toolkit that includes a section on accessibility, and other resources on accessible polling places and voting systems for voters with disabilities and voting officials. Visit EAC’s website at www.eac.gov for further information.

Those who encounter accessibility issues in voting can contact the Voting Section of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division which enforces civil provisions of federal laws that protect the right to vote, including HAVA and the Voting Rights Act. Complaints can be filed through an online form or submitted at voting.section@usdoj.gov (email), (800) 253-3931 (phone), (202) 307-3961 (fax), or the Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice, Room 7254 – NWB, 950 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20530.