Sen. Pryor pushing bill to adapt Net, tech for deaf, blind

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) is pushing new legislation that would require technology companies, phone manufacturers and Web vendors to adapt their products to deaf or blind customers.

The senator, who chairs a Senate subcommittee on consumer affairs, plans to introduce the "Equal Access to 21st Century Communications Act" on Tuesday. The legislation is Pryor's attempt to address accessibility problems that have long made it difficult for disabled persons to use new media and technology tools.

Among other things, the legislation would mandate that all smartphones -- including the iPhone and BlackBerry -- are compatible with most hearing aids. Pryor's bill would also require DVRs and mp3 players to support closed captioning, as most TVs already do, and would authorize new money for a fund to expand broadband service to low-income, disabled persons.

"The Internet is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity to learn, interact and conduct business," Pryor said Monday during a speech at the School for the Deaf and the School for the Blind in Arkansas, according to local news. 

"That's why my bill helps ensure every individual can have access to today's innovative technologies," Pryor continued. "In the land of opportunity, everyone should be able to fully participate and compete in the 21st Century marketplace."