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Mr. MARKEY. The gentleman's time has expired. I note the arrival of the gentleman from Maryland, Mr. Hoyer; and does the gentleman from Maryland wish to make any comments? I know that he is very busy this morning doing the-would you like to sit down there, or come up here, or-
Mr. HOYER. I will stand. I apologize
Mr. MARKEY. As the Chairman of the Democratic Caucus, I have to respect that.
STATEMENT OF HON. STENY H. HOYER, A REPRESENTATIVE IN
CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF MARYLAND Mr. HOYER. I apologize for my lateness. As you know, Mr. Chairman, I am chairing the Democratic Caucus now on the Capital Gains issue, but I wanted to be here, and I thank you for inviting me to join you at this mornings hearing on the telecommunications provisions of the "Americans with Disabilities Act."
Although I can only stay briefly because of that caucus, I would like to commend you, Chairman Markey, and Chairman Dingell, and the minority members, Mr. Rinaldo, for moving ahead with this subcommittee hearing.
As you know, the “Americans with Disabilities Act” would provide civil rights protection to 45 million disabled Americans, by prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities to employment, and public service, and public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications.
Title V of the legislation, which deals with telecommunications, is a key provision of the legislation which will finally conquer a major communication barrier between hearing and hearing disabled Americans.
There was a glaring need, Mr. Chairman, to establish relay systems which will enable the 23 million hearing and speech-impaired Americans to make and receive calls from individuals who use voice telephones.
Title V will require that the telephone companies provide hearing and speech-impaired individuals with the same level of service as provided to all other Americans. Members of Congress, like most Americans, rely on the phone perhaps as much as any other device to complete so much of our business.
It is hard to imagine not being able to pick up the phone to reason with colleagues, talk with a daughter who lives in Arizona as I have one, or arrange a dinner with my wife. Yet, that inability is a daily fact of life for hearing-impaired Americans.
The committee is fortunate today, Mr. Chairman, to have someone who can address these issues more eloquently and more knowledgeably than I. Last year, the world watched in wonder and in growing understanding as the students at Gallaudet University brought the need for change into America's living rooms.
I am pleased to have the opportunity and the privilege to introduce a good friend of mine, a leading educator in America, and one of America's most articulate and eloquent, and compelling speakers for those who have challenges that perhaps some of the rest of us do not have, and I speak, of course, of the first deaf president of Gallaudet University, my friend, Dr. King Jordan.
I urge the members of the committee to heed his words, for he speaks not only for the hearing impaired, but for millions, and millions, and millions of Americans who daily see themselves discriminated against, in large part because of insensitivity.
Perhaps in a smaller part, and we hope much lesser part, because of indifference, Dr. Jordan's appointment has shown millions of disabled Americans that the opportunities that America offers are offered to them as well.
The enactment of the "Americans with Disabilities Act" will ensure that their dreams of opportunity and equal access become a reality.
Mr. Chairman, this is the major civil rights bill of this Congress. It ought to be passed, and it ought to be passed quickly. I again applaud you, Mr. Chairman, for scheduling these early hearings, and for your strong support of this legislation, and I appreciate the opportunity to be here with you, and with the members of your subcommittee, and my friend, Dr. Jordan.
Mr. Markey. Thank you very much, Steny, for coming over, and I know you have a heavy schedule with the capital gains question and all, and the Democratic Party, and I would just like to show you what this subcommittee is going to be working on.
This is called a telecommunications device for some, and what it will do if we can universalize its service across the country, because it is basically a typewriter, and what it will do is that it will allow people who are communications-impaired to be able to type in their message.
The relay operator then for the telephone company will then have a printout of the message, which they can then read to the person who the communications-impaired person is trying to communicate with.
And then in turn, the message which the person who is being called or wants to call a communications-impaired person, can then be typed back through the communications relay person at the telephone company, and read back, or type back, in the instance of a message going back to a communications-impaired person.
And this is something which we-I believe-can include as part of this comprehensive package which we hope to go through, break down enormous barriers which have been existent in communications and a world that is just so dependent now on communications and the telephone on relaying messages.
And this is what-this is at the heart of what the legislation that we are doing right now.
Mr. HOYER. Mr. Chairman, I am glad that you brought that to our attention, because as I said in my opening remarks I think that there has been an insensitivity, and there is really a lot of technological capability available to overcome these barriers that exist.
And, very frankly, I failed to mention, but want to mention that this legislation, as you know, is strongly supported by the President. President Bush has endorsed this legislation, and is working this legislation.
I have met with representatives of the White House yesterday, and they again reiterated-Dr. Roper—the strong support of the President, and of the White House for this legislation, and their hopes that it will see early passage.
Because they, like you, know of the importance of overcoming these barriers, not only in terms of the appropriateness of reaching out to Americans who have been discriminated against, as we are doing, whether they be black, or if they are women, or other minority groups.
This is a group that is being equally discriminated against, and it is costing America billions of dollars annually wo effect that discrimination. To the extent that they are shut out of the workplace, and shut out of the ability to communicate, and shut out of the ability to get from place to place, America loses, and not just the individuals.
It is certainly those individuals that you want to protect, but it will be to the great benefit of all of the advantaged Americans as well. So, I thank the chairman for this ability to be with you.
Mr. MARKEY. Thank you very much, Steny. So, now we will turn to our panel, which consists of Dr. I. King Jordan, President of Gallaudet University, the Honorable Gail Garfield Schwartz, who is the Deputy Chairwoman of the New York Public Service Commission; Ms. Karen Strauss, who is from the National Center for Law and Deaf, at Gallaudet University; Mr. Merrill Tutton, who is the vice president of Consumer Services, AT&T; and Ms. Linda Hershman, general manager, Government Relations, of the United States Telephone Association.
Dr. Jordan, it is an honor to have here this morning, and we welcome your testimony. STATEMENTS OF I. KING JORDAN, PRESIDENT, GALLAUDET UNI.
VERSITY; GAIL GARFIELD SCHWARTZ, DEPUTY CHAIRMAN,
Mr. JORDAN. Good morning, Mr. Chairman. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and Mr. Moorhead, it is a pleasure to be here this morning to testify before your subcommittee. I appreciate the opportunity, and I thank Congressman Hoyer for his very kind remarks on my behalf, and on behalf of this bill.
I am very happy to be able to testify for the Americans with Disabilities Act, and, in particular, for Title IV of that Act, requiring telecommunications relay services for the deaf, and speech-impaired.
This is landmark legislation for disabled people, and it is long, long overdue. In fact, it is no less than our emancipation proclamation to lead independent lives in all aspects of America.
Congress mandated in 1934, as you know, that communication services be made available as far as possible to all the people of the United States. But today, 55 years later, more than 55 years later, I and 24 other-24 million other Americans, deaf, hearing impaired, and nearly 3 million speech-impaired Americans, still don't have full access to telephone service.
As a deaf person, I know very well the frustrations and inconveniences of not being able to use the telephone. The simplest task often becomes a major burden when we don't have access to the telephone.
Easy examples, like when a sick person needs to call a doctor, or a worker who has to inform his boss that he can't show up for work that day, or a homeowner who needs a plumber fast. Any example like this that is routine, simple, and something you don't think twice about, becomes very, very difficult when you don't have access to the telephone.
What should take no more than 5 minutes, often becomes an hour's drive around the city to get the same services. Try to imagine yourself without the use of a telephone for a day for the tasks that you have to do. Just imagine showing up in your office and not using a telephone all day. That is what I confront every day.
I know how important the telephone is, and in fact, it is so important to me that I have installed a TDD in my car. I actually may have the only TDD in this country that is installed in a car, but with my schedule the way it is, when I am held up at one meeting and will be late for another, I need to use that telephone, and I use the telephone in my car regularly.
But I have a very severe limitation on that telephone. I can only call other people with TDD's. I can't call someone who doesn't have a TDD, and that is not acceptable to me. It is not acceptable to 24 million other hearing-impaired Americans.
Last year, I testified on the Telecommunications Accessibility Enhancement Act of 1988. That Act set up a wonderful national relay service, and it is really the first step in our goal to full telephone access. However, it is just that, a first step.
The ADA will complete the task at hand. By requiring a national relay system, it will help deaf and speech-impaired people achieve independence in their lives.
The Senate by floor amendment has given telephone companies or the Federal Communications Commission a 1 year waiver to any company that could show undue burden to meet the 3-year deadline. The deadline was 2 years before it was amended to 3 years the Senate floor.
This means that we may have to wait for up to 4 years from the enactment of the Act to benefit from the law's telephone relay services. I strongly believe that this 1 year waiver is not necessary.
We have waited more than 55 years already, and the technology is there, and there is no reason to have to wait 1 more year after that. In your remarks this morning your talked about communication impaired individuals, and related to telecommunications we are communication impaired, but there is no reason for us to be communication impaired.
We have the technology, and all we need is this law to ensure that it happens. Thank you very much.
Mr. MARKEY. Thank you very much, Dr. Jordan. I will recognize Gail Garfield Schwartz, the Deputy Chairwoman of the New York Public Service Commission.
STATEMENT OF-GAIL GARFIELD SCHWARTZ Ms. SCHWARTZ. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr... Chairman, and distinguished members of the committee, I am very honored to be here today to testify on this very important piece of legislation.
As you know, New York has been working on a deaf relay hearing-impaired and speech-impaired relay system for about 3 years now, and although our experience is recent, it has been very successful, and we are eager to see it duplicated across the Nation.
I hardily commend your effort here, and that of your counterparts in the Senate, because until now the main problem with the New York plan is that hearing and speech-impaired persons have not been able to communicate with nonbearing and speech-impaired persons nationwide.
Let me just say a couple of words about the New York experience, so that I can move directly to comments on the proposed legislation. Since its inauguration in December 1988, the usage of our system has increased steadily.
As an indication the substantial increase in demand for services, the number of communication assistants, that is, the personnel who the chairman mentioned, who actually handle the relay calls in the statewide Relay System Center, has more than doubled, from 58 at the beginning, to over 132 presently.
We are gratified by the increasing use made of the system, and attribute the success to the concerted efforts of many parties, including our own staff at the New York Public Service Commission, members of the hearing-impaired and speech-impaired community themselves, AT&T, and the local exchange carriers in the State.
A very significant component of this joint effort has involved informing and educating both the hearing and speech-impaired and non-hearing and speech-impaired communities to the tremendous advantages and potential of the system. I believe that similar efforts would contribute greatly to the success of a nationwide system.
The operating parameters of New York's system have been good and also steadily improving. For example, the average percentage of calls answered over the first 6 months of this year was 93.7 percent, and by the end of June, the percentage of calls answered within 10 seconds, a very short time indeed, was nearly 86 percent.
It is testimony to the performance of the system that the majority of the few consumer complaints received, and I emphasize that they are few indeed, that we have received cor.cerning the inability of the New York system to complete interstate calls.
I believe our success also confirms the soundness of some fundamental decisions made by the New York Public Service Commission concerning operations which are relevant to this proposed legislation. We determined that provision of this service is a basic service obligation of the local exchange carriers in the State. We also determined that the relay system should be operated by one entity with experience in telecommunications.
AT&T Communications of New York, is actually operating the system on behalf of all the local exchange carriers. The funding mechanism is a monthly surcharge on the bills of residence and business customers, although we do exempt Lifeline customers,