Innovations such as speech controlled devices, text-to-speech, video conferencing and interfaces that are accessible to people with low mobility have changed how we engage with the communities around us. Constant innovation in mobile technologies has further benefited the disability community by giving us access to these tools wherever we go. As we look forward to the next 21 years, we must continue to develop and expand accessible high-speed wireless broadband and the capabilities that depend upon it.

In the near future, more technology will move into the cloud and become available on mobile devices. Cloud-based text-to-speech and speech-to-text technology could make it possible for videos to be automatically transcribed as they are watched or for news and websites to be read aloud while traveling. Getting around town will become easier when a person with low vision can verbalize an address to their device and it will read them block-by-block instructions as they walk.

Additionally, wireless broadband will bring access to those people who live in rural communities that do not have wired service. For many people with disabilities, the ability to telecommute, apply for jobs online, virtually connect with their doctors, and manage their finances electronically is critical to achieving true independence. For too long this has not been possible in rural America, but the expansion of mobile broadband will help to change this.

To make this dream a reality, we need companies to step up their efforts to develop accessible technologies and expand reliable wireless access. This is not only critical for our community, but it is a business opportunity. There are over 50 million Americans living with disabilities and that number will only increase as the baby boomer generation ages. As a result, we call on all companies to meet the highest industry standards for the development of accessible technologies and inclusive business practices.

Companies who have done this best have worked directly with the disability community to design products and services that not only meet the needs of people with disabilities, but provide value to people without disabilities as well. We hope that the FCC, the telecommunications industry and technology companies will continue to work with us to make these changes because when people with disabilities are able to fully and equally participate in society, all Americans will benefit.

Kelly Buckland is the Executive Director of the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL). Founded in 1982, NCIL represents thousands of organizations and individuals including: Centers for Independent Living (CILs), Statewide Independent Living Councils (SILCs), individuals with disabilities, and other organizations that advocate for the human and civil rights of people with disabilities throughout the United States.