Chairman Rockefeller Remarks on Innovation and Inclusion: The Americans with Disabilities Act at 20

May 26, 2010

JDR Head ShotWASHINGTON, D.C.—This summer we celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This historic civil rights legislation provided a broad national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against people with disabilities. As a result, during the past two decades, more than 54 million Americans have had a meaningful opportunity to participate in our economy and in our everyday way of life. In communities across West Virginia, we have seen the law increase access to services, promote equality, and protect legal rights – the kind of steady systemic change that makes a real difference in people’s lives.

But we do not honor this great achievement by looking only to the past. We honor it by bringing it into the future. So at our hearing today, the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet will consider how we need to update the Americans with Disabilities Act and related laws, so that they better reflect the digital age.

I have worked my entire career to bring the power and the promise of new communications technology to every corner of my state. I have seen the opportunity it creates for our communities, changing education, improving healthcare, and strengthening local businesses. We have a responsibility to make sure that kind of transformative opportunity is available to everyone. It is vitally important that our policies and programs keep up with the blistering speed of constantly changing technology.

So I very much support this discussion, because I believe that the requirement of functional equivalency needs to evolve as our communications technology evolves. I believe that innovation can beget more inclusion, and I believe that when we extend opportunity more broadly, we multiply the benefits for every American.

I salute Senator Pryor for his legislative efforts on this subject. His work has jump-started an important conversation about updating our communications laws to provide full access for people with disabilities in the digital age. I also appreciate the time and attention Senator Kerry brings to this subject and his willingness to hold this hearing. It is with pride that I note that the Commerce Committee has made it a high priority to ensure that all of its hearings are accessible to people with disabilities, and has responded to all requests for accommodations.

I extend my gratitude to all of our witnesses today. Their interest in this subject will undoubtedly inform our work as we go forward.