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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living


NCIL Applauds Congressional Hearings on Spectrum

NCIL applauds the recent Congressional efforts to address the nation’s pressing spectrum needs. With yesterday’s two hearings, “Removing Barriers to Wireless Broadband Deployment” and “Improving Federal Spectrum Systems” our nation’s leaders took one step closer towards finding a beneficial solution to meet the growing demand for faster, more efficient wireless networks.

These hearings could not have occurred at a better time as recent studies (PDF) indicate that wireless usage is growing off the charts. According to wireless industry group CTIA, the number of active smartphones in the U.S. increased from 50 million in 2009 to over 200 million in 2014. In this same timeframe, average monthly traffic skyrocketed from only 76 MB/month in 2009 to over 1.8 GB/month. With this rapid increase in mobile devices and data consumption, our wireless spectrum is on a one way path to permanent bottleneck. This means unresponsive networks moving at terribly slow speeds.

NCIL believes that in our growing mobile society, the best way to ensure our communities keep pace is to increase the amount of spectrum available.

Just last month, the Wireless RERC’s research team announced their Survey of User Needs (SUN) for Wireless Technologies to measure accessible mobile use. As the only national source of comprehensive information and insight into the wireless technology needs of people with disabilities, SUN data is used by all of the wireless decision makers – wireless industry, regulatory agencies, advocacy organizations and other researchers – to inform much needed policy changes in areas just like this.

Data gathered from this survey will only increase the calls for more spectrum.

Increasing the amount of spectrum available for commercial and unlicensed use will have profound benefits for people with disabilities and the entire Independent Living Movement. More spectrum means faster connectivity with health monitoring, increased availability to accessible smartphones, and rapid growth potential for practical applications like telemedicine. Spectrum has the ability to empower those across the country looking to tap into the burgeoning “Internet of Things” as well. With increased wireless connectivity, those with disabilities will be able to take part in the move to automated household appliances and tech wearables.

People with disabilities across the nation benefit significantly from access to robust wireless networks. NCIL thanks Congress for holding yesterday’s hearings and encourages the reallocation of spectrum for commercial and innovative use so people with disabilities can live, work, and connect like never before.

New Survey of User Needs for Wireless Technology – Please Participate!

The Wireless RERC’s research team is pleased to announce the launch of the 2015 Survey of User Needs (SUN) for Wireless Technologies. The SUN is our cornerstone survey of wireless technology use and usability by people with all types of disabilities. The survey mainly focuses on cellphones, but also includes questions about other types of devices like tablet computers such as an Apple iPad, Amazon Kindle Fire, Microsoft Surface, Samsung Galaxy Tab and other similar devices.

First launched in 2002, the SUN is the only national source of comprehensive information and insight into the wireless technology needs of people with disabilities. SUN data are used by the wireless industry, regulatory agencies, advocacy organizations and other researchers to inform their work. Over the years, more than 6000 people with disabilities have completed the SUN, and more than half have joined our national Consumer Advisory Network (CAN).

Please consider participating in the Survey of User Needs. You can participate on the web, on the phone, or we can send you a paper copy with a postage paid return envelope.

To complete the survey over the phone or to request a paper copy with a stamped return envelope, please contact John Morris at: or 404-367-1348.

AT&T Connect Ability Challenge: Public Voting Ends This Friday

The Connect Ability Challenge looks to spur innovation of new technologies for people with disabilities. You can vote on the apps, wearable tech and other solutions that will help people with physical, social, emotional and cognitive disabilities. We also invite you to engage your members and other interested persons and encourage them to vote.

Public Voting closes on July 10. You can view all the submissions online.

Developers designed solutions for people living sensory, mobility, social/emotional or communicative and cognitive disabilities. During the competition, they had the opportunity to interact with four “Exemplars”, people living with the types of disabilities around which they were creating technology solutions for.

Solutions submitted include a variety of communicative and cognitive, sensory, social and emotional, mobility, and policy and societal technology. Among the 63 submissions, over two thirds are app solutions for iOS, Android, and mobile web. The hardware devices are also mostly hardware and app solutions. Over half of the submissions received are newly created tech solutions, coming from 15 countries across the world, two thirds of which are from developers based in 16 states across the United States.

One Week Left to Submit Ideas to the #ConnectAbility Challenge!

The AT&T NYU Connect Ability Challenge is a three-month global software development competition leveraging mobile and wireless technologies to improve the lives of people living with disabilities.

This new initiative strives to help millions of people with disabilities by matching developer talent and client users with disabilities. Together you can imagine, create and refine new innovations that break down barriers to independence and self-expression.

For these innovations to be readily accessible to people with disabilities, developers are encouraged to leverage familiar, cost-efficient smart phone, wearable and everyday wireless technologies.

Through in-person and virtual programming, the Connect Ability Challenge facilitates participatory development, embraces user-centered design and rewards universal design so new innovations can be adopted immediately and by as many people as possible.

Read more at the Connect Ability Challenge website.

Connect Ability Challenge

AT&T has partnered with NYU and RESNA to design an exciting technology contest called the Connect Ability Challenge. AT&T will be awarding $100k in prizes to individual developers and small business that deliver software or apps to the Challenge review board before June 24, 2015. The prize money will be given in honor of the ADA 25th Anniversary.

Visit the Challenge website. All the rules and guidelines are listed there and AT&T has created videos for four “exemplars.” These are people with disabilities who talk about how they use technology today and how technology could continue to improve their lives.

FCC Seeks Nominations for New Disability Advisory Committee

On December 2, 2014, the FCC announced the formation of a Disability Advisory Committee, and seeks nominations for membership. The Committee is an opportunity for consumers and other stakeholders to provide feedback and recommendations to the FCC on a wide array of disability issues. The Committee will enable the FCC to keep pace with evolving communications accessibility issues.

The deadline to nominate Committee members is January 12, 2015. Read more information on the Committee and the nomination process.

Resource for Low Cost Internet Access

Source: National Cristina Foundation

The National Cristina Foundation is partnering with EveryoneOn to direct partner organizations and their respective populations served to an online source of low cost and no cost Internet access. In addition, this resource can be used to identify local computer training resources as well as sources for low cost refurbished computers.

NCF is in its 30th year of promoting technology reuse from its first life in business, corporations and homes to a productive second life with local nonprofits and schools.  Today’s computers, without access to the Internet, are only half of the solution.

EveryoneOn is a national nonprofit working to eliminate the digital divide by making high-speed, low-cost Internet service and computers, as well as free digital literacy courses accessible to all unconnected Americans. They aim to leverage the democratizing power of the Internet to provide opportunity to all Americans – regardless of age, race, geography, income or education level.

To locate providers of low cost Internet service and to determine your eligibility for such services, go to and enter information regarding your location as well as eligibility for related services.

Additional free online resources related to educational material can be found in the Resource column to the right. NCF thanks EveryoneOn for their efforts to eliminate the digital divide and to help Link Life to Its Promise.

IP Transition Has Potential to Remove Barriers; NCIL Vows to Work with the FCC and Telecommunications Companies to Ensure People with Disabilities Are Prioritized

By Kelly Buckland, Executive Director, NCIL

In mid-December, the Federal Communications Commission held an Open Commission Meeting that included a presentation by the Technology Transitions Policy Task Force about a topic of interest to Independent Living advocates — the “IP Transition.” The “transition” refers to the move that millions of Americans are making from traditional “Plain Old Telephone Service” to IP-based networks, choosing to obtain their phone and internet service from faster IP networks rather than the century-old voice-centric telephone network. Over the next several years, more and more Americans will have the opportunity to make the same switch to much faster and more robust, capable networks.

Nothing About Us Without Us 2012 signFCC Chairman Tom Wheeler recently wrote a blog post about the benefits of the IP Transition, saying that switching to IP networks will “catalyze innovation, investment, ideas and ingenuity.” I agree with Chairman Wheeler that this evolution has the potential to offer significant benefits to our country and our economy.

I also believe that the IP Transition can have profound benefits for people with disabilities and the Independent Living Movement. Greater access to broadband networks will enable more people with disabilities to live, work and connect in ways that previously may not have always been as wide spread.

For instance, universal access to IP networks will bring services such as video calling to more Americans.  This can expand telework opportunities, enable more people to live independently and of course improve communications for Americans who are deaf and hard of hearing.

Additionally, expanded home automation services will also offer potentially greater benefits. Being able to automate certain tasks around the home such as locking the door, controlling the thermostat and switching appliances on and off remotely and from an accessible portal has the potential to make life much easier for people with and without disabilities and help enhance their independence.  [Read more…]

US Military Seeks to Create Bionic Spinal Cords Controlled by Thought

Ashton Rosin

The U.S. military is collaborating with the Australian government to fund a $2.5 million project to develop the first bionic spinal cord controlled solely by thought. If the project proves successful after the five year pilot program, the device will allow people with quadriplegia to control cutting edge robotic arms in such a way that they are able to live more independently. Australian scientists from the Melbourne Bionics laboratory at the Royal Melbourne Hospital are using innovative expertise in the realms of engineering and neurology to cultivate brain signals that when triggered, stimulate movement to the spinal cord that is typically trapped by the injury.

NCIL believes that independent living is a civil right and should not be based on assessment of ability or disability. Therefore, the bionic spinal cord should not intend to cure people of their injury, but rather be reframed to exemplify an innovative avenue to promote agency and empowerment. We reject at every level the Cure or Kill Mentality and the Medical Model of disability, sometimes employed by researchers who seek to reverse disability with this type of technology. Rather, we hope to highlight these technological achievements as new pathways that can promote and further independent living for people with disabilities who are thriving and accomplishing as productive members of society.

Dr. Tom Oxley, the leading researcher, described the bionic spinal cord as a mechanism that works to decode the brain activity that generates limb movements. The computer that is embedded within the manufactured spinal cord will be trained to identify and register brain signals to promote movement.  [Read more…]

CERT Consortium Releases First Newsletter

NCIL serves as a member of the Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University’s Center on Effective Delivery of Rehabilitation Technology by Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies (CERT) Consortium.

The (CERT) service delivery is identifying, documenting, and analyzing models of rehabilitation and assistive technology (RT/AT) service delivery shown to be effective in promoting successful employment outcomes.

As part of this project, the Consortium has developed a newsletter to inform and update the community. The first newsletter has just been published and NCIL is featured in two articles for this edition. Read the new CERT newsletter online.