Yesterday was a great day to be a part of the Department of Commerce. In honor of the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Department teamed up with the Federal Communications Commission to host a technology fair showcasing technologies for persons with disabilities. There were more than 40 companies and organizations represented. Although a wide range of exhibitors attended, I was struck by how much of the technology had a tie-in to broadband and the Internet.
Unemployment and underemployment has been a longstanding issue for persons with disabilities. The latest Census figures tell us that approximately 1 out of 2 persons with a disability is unemployed or underemployed.
The advent of the modern computer age coupled with the expansion of high speed broadband services offers the promise of employment opportunities for all, but can be especially life-changing for a person with a disability. With access to high speed broadband and the right technology, a person who cannot see can edit a written proposal, a person who cannot hear can call a co-worker on the telephone, and a person who has difficulty moving can be a part of a team meeting even though they are at home.
To turn this opportunity into a reality, we were excited to announce a BTOP grant award yesterday for nearly $15 million to Communication Service for the Deaf, Inc. (CSD) . The grant to CSD is designed to expand broadband adoption among people who are deaf and hard of hearing and provide them with tools to more fully participate in the digital economy. CSD plans to employ a mix of discounted broadband service and specialized computers, technology training from an online state-of-the-art support center customized to the community’s needs, public access to videophones at community anchor institutions across the country, and a nationwide outreach initiative.
The CSD grant is just the latest in a series of grant awards that will have a positive impact on persons with disabilities. While we have much work to do to make sure that everyone who wants a job has one, it is important to take time to celebrate the ADA and how this landmark legislation changed the lives of so many people over the last 20 years. Through our broadband grant program--and especially though awards like the one to CSD--we see the promises of that legislation coming to fruition. While we are excited about the promise of these grants, we also recommit ourselves to discover new ways to put broadband to work for all of America.
Mark Seifert is Senior Advisor to the Deputy Secretary of Commerce.