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Prepared Statement of Steven L Jacobs President, IDEAL Group, Inc. before the Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties on Achieving the Promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act in the Digital Age Current Issues, Challenges, and Opportunities Thursday, April 22, 2010

Mr. Chairman, Representative Nadler, and Representative Sensenbrenner, Ranking Member, and other Members of the Committee, thank you for this opportunity to present testimony on the current issues, challenges and opportunities in this digital age in regard to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

My name is Steve Jacobs. I have been in the computer industry for 35 years. As President of IDEAL Group1, a 2002 spin-off from IDEAL at NCR Corporation2 I have been intimately involved in the technological issues, challenges, and opportunities being discussed today.

As part of my testimony, I am going to show, by example, that there are alternatives to certain beliefs and concerns held by my industry colleagues at other IT companies.

Over the past 10 years our industry has experienced exponential growth which, on the surface, can appear to be exacerbating technology accessibility issues.

The number of Internet users has risen from approximately 361 million3 ten years ago to 1.8 billion4 users at the end of 2009. This represents a 26.6% cumulative average growth rate. If this growth rate continues half the world's population will be using the Internet by the end of 20125.

Web-based social networking communities are now frequented by over half-a-billion people every year6.

4.1 billion SMS messages are being sent on a daily basis7.

Linkedln, an Internet-based business networking community has over 65 million members in 200 countries8. Linkedln is accessible to a greater than lesser extent. Because of this, organizations of individuals with disabilities are able to participate and interact with each other.

The number of organizations using web-delivered applications is increasing rapidly. There are 25 million users of Google applications9.

There are 6,500 online college courses offered10.

Shopping and making travel arrangements online is less expensive than brick-and-mortar alternatives. The trend in online learning is pointed upward.

Technology is woven into every aspect of life as we know it today. The ADA is about the civil rights of people with disabilities. When technology is inaccessible to people with disabilities seeking to access the same resources as their non-disabled counterparts... it violates their civil rights.

I manage four companies that market E&IT products and services. All of our products and services are accessible to people with disabilities. Designing accessible E&IT is easier, more technically possible, more economically feasible and more profitable to develop than ever before in history.

For example, up until recently, individuals who are blind had to pay $300- $40011 extra for screenreading software in order to use a cell phone. Then along came Google Android12 a free, open source, operating system for wireless smartphones. A smartphone is a mobile phone offering advanced capabilities, often with PC-like functionality. Thanks to innovative works of TV Raman and Charles Chen, two brilliant Google scientists and engineers, all Android smartphones come with a free screenreader and other accessibility applications. The iPhone13 and iPad14 also include free accessibility features. Google and Apple are not in business to lose money. They would not be integrating accessibility features into their smartphones for free if it were technically difficult, expensive or, if they lost money doing so.

Google provides the interfaces, development tools, platforms, marketing tools and distribution resources companies need to develop accessible applications15. Many accessibility applications have come on to the marketiSa. Our company formed Apps4Android16, a Google smartphone application development company, in early 2009. In 14 short months our user base has grown to 600,000 users in 25 countries.

If our small company can be successful designing and selling accessible mainstream applications for this market, so can other companies. Wireless service providers, such as T-Mobile17, have been open to learning more about potential opportunities in this space.

It used to be impractical to retrofit a web-based application to be accessible. That's no longer the case. Google AxsJAX18 enables developers to create dynamically changing scripts that make their web applications more accessible. One of our subsidiary companies, IDEAL Conference19, in partnership with Talking Communities has been provideding fully-accessible distance-learning, online conferencing and webinar services and accessibility training to hundreds of thousands of over the past eight years. Among those users are individuals with hearing impairments, people who are deaf, consumers with vision-loss, people with speech disabilities, persons with mobility disabilities and more.

It was reasonable, technically possible, economically feasible and profitable for us to do so. We are in business to make money. Just imagine the possibilities if large companies that currently market similar but inaccessible products and services would do the same.

Every minute, 20 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube. How can we expect every video owner to spend the time and effort necessary to add captions to their videos? Even with all of the captioning support already available a majority of user-generated video content online is still inaccessible to people who are deaf.

Ken Harrenstien a Google Software Engineer recently combined Google's automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology with the YouTube caption system to offer automatic captions, or auto-caps for short.

Auto-caps use the same voice recognition algorithms in Google Voice to automatically generate captions for video. While the captions may not always be perfect they can still be incredibly helpful, and the technology will continue to improve with time. If implementing these technologies were not technically possible, economically feasible and profitable, Google would not be evolving them.

Partners for the initial launch of auto-caps are UC Berkeley, MIT, Yale, UCLA, Duke, UCTV, Columbia, PBS, National Geographic, Demand Media, UNSW, and most Google and YouTube channels20.

In addition to automatic captions Google is also launching automatic caption timing, or auto-timing, to make it significantly easier to create captions manually. With auto-timing, you no longer need to have special expertise to create your own captions for YouTube videos. All you'll need to do is create a simple text file with all the words in the video and use Google's ASR technology to figure out when the words are spoken and create captions for your video. This should significantly lower the barriers for video owners who want to add captions, but who don't have the time or resources to create professional caption tracks20. Talk about technically possible and economically feasible!

Our National Broadband Plan21 is shaping the future of issues that matter to all of us. Broadband networks and applications are critical to the competitive advantage and future success of our country. Broadband will serve as the platform to stimulate the creation of innovative business, education, government, entertainment and social online products and services. Health- focused broadband applications will transform health care. All patients will want to exercise their legal and civil rights to obtain personal health records, interact with physician offices, obtain lab results, schedule appointments... and much more... all online.

We've known it for a long time: the web is big. The first Google index in 1998 already had 26 million pages, and by 2000 the Google index reached the one billion mark. Google has now indexed far in excess of one trillion unique URLs22. Internet users conduct over two billion Google searches every day23.

Georgia Tech's sonification tab24 is using free, open source, software developed by NASA Learning Technologies25 to create fully-accessible, free, web-based resources designed to enable the participation and enhance the performance of America's students with print disabilities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)26. This include efforts not only from the Federal Government but also from leading companies, foundations, non-profits, and science and engineering societies. These organizations would not be making the commitments of technology and resources if achieving these technology objectives were technically impossible, economically unfeasible or would cost a lot of money... especially in today's economy.

Thanks to Dr. Margo Izzo a researcher at The Nisonger Center at The Ohio State University27 and talented software developers from around the world, students with disabilities are now being provided with free, portable, highquality, assistive technology software smartdrives to benefit students with disabilities in the following ways:

IDEAL Group is looking forward to exploring the possibilities of distributing our assistive technology software smartdrives though State Assistive Technology Act (ATAP) Programs28, funded under the AT Act of 1998, as amended

In closing, I encourage all of you not to permit the sometimes exaggerated perceptions of technology accessibility issues and challenges cloud the fact that there are now more opportunities than ever before in history to design accessible and profitable E&IT products and services.

All of you on this subcommittee are in the enviable position to help every person, regardless of ability, be able to exercise their civil rights by having equal access to E&IT.

Thank you!

About IDEAL Group, Inc.

IDEAL Group, Inc. is a 2002 spin-off from IDEAL at NCR Corporation (NYSE: NCR). IDEAL Group has four subsidiary companies:

1. Online Conferencing Systems Group, Inc. http://onlineconferencingsvstems.com
Online Conferencing Systems Group provides fully accessible, 508 compliant, online conferencing, distance learning and Webinar services. OCSG has served hundreds-of-thousands of users worldwide over the past eight years.

2. InftyReader Group, Inc. http://www.inftyreader.org
InftyReader Group provides applications that recognize and translates science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) documents into accessible formats for individuals with print disabilities. See our Accessible math resource: http://www .accessiblemath.org/ See our Speech Recognition-Based Math Accessibility Project: http://inftvreader.org/speech-recognition.htm

3. Apps4Android, Inc. http://apps4android.org
Apps4Android is a Google Android smartphone assistive technology software development company. Apps4Android is dedicated to developing free/low-cost, high-quality, mobile applications that enhance the quality-of-life, independence and employability of individuals with disabilities. After only 14 months in business, Apps4Android applications are being used by more than 600,000 users in 25+ countries. See our Android Accessibility Project: http://accessibility-android.info.

4. EasyCC, Inc. http://easycc.org/
EasyCC is the newest IDEAL Group subsidiary company. EasyCC provides real-time captioning services to organizations wishing to accommodate the access needs of individuals who are deaf.


References:

  1. History of IDEAL Group: http://www.ideal-group.org/history/
  2. NCR Corporation website: http://www.ncr.com
  3. 361 million: http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm
  4. 1.8 billion: http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm
  5. 1.8B x 126.6 x 126.6 x 126.6 = 3.65B
  6. Social networking statistics:
  7. 4.1 billion: http://tinyurl.com/y4n86vm
  8. Linkedln: http://press.linkedin.com/about
  9. Google apps: http://tinvurl.com/vvad3pg
  10. Online courses: http://www.elearners.com/courses/
  11. Nuance TALKS: http://tinyurl.com/y74zh97 Mobile Speak: http://tinyurl.com/y5979gg
  12. Google Android: http://www.android.com
  13. iPhone accessibility: http://tinyurl.com/6oDtfu
  14. iPad Accessibility: http://tinyurl.com/yfw54rv
  15. Android Market: http://www.android.com/market/ http://www.accessibilitv-android.info/stats.htm
  16. Apps4Android: http://aoDs4androicLorg
  17. T-Mobile: http://tinyurl.com/yybvph8
  18. Google AxsJAX: http://tinyurl.com/yvsav2m
  19. IDEAL Conference: http://onlineconferencinasystems.com
  20. Google Captions: http://tinvurl.com/vkzj44a
  21. National Broadband Plan: http://www.broadband.com
  22. Google indexed websites: http://tinyurl.com/5blvgm
  23. Google Searches: http://tinyurl.com/9oo4te
  24. Georgia Tech's Sonification Lab: http://sonify.osvch.gatech.edu/
  25. NASA Learning Technologies: http://tinyurl.com/y37l22r
  26. Educate to Innovate: http://tinyurl.com/yb3sjr3
  27. Nisonger Center: http://nisonger.osu.edu
  28. ATAP: http://www.ataporg.org/atap/index.php