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As the FCC gathers recommendations for a national broadband plan, it faces a historic opportunity to help improve the lives of all deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

A recent field hearing on broadband access for people with disabilities outlined several of the necessary improvements an effective national broadband plan could have for people with disabilities, from improved closed captioning services to improved emergency services like 911.

Some of the Benefits of Broadband for People With Disabilities:

1. Access to high speed Internet provides access to goods and services that people with disabilities would otherwise face obstacles in obtaining.

2. In addition to increased commercial opportunities, broadband provides educational opportunities, including the option of attending distance-learning courses.

3. Broadband increases access to job opportunities for the disabled, particularly jobs that would otherwise require difficult or unnecessary commuting as part of the job search and application process.

4. Broadband permits users of Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) to use Video Relay Services (VRS) to communicate more easily with voice telephone users.

One broadband access issue specific to deaf and hard of hearing people is closed captioning. For example, section 508 requires accessibility of government web video, but it is not unusual to come across a government web video that is not captioned. In fact, YouTube has a US Government section, http://www.youtube.com/usgovernment. Many of the videos there are not captioned.

Another issue is that the internet and regular television are merging. This means that internet television needs to be captioned just like regular television. Captioning on the internet is also important for educational access. Without captions on the internet, deaf and hard of hearing people miss out on news, entertainment, and educational opportunities.

Jamie Berke is a leader of Caption Action 2, a cause on Facebook.

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