Congressman Hoeffel Offers Amendment to Ensure Access to the Internet by Elderly and Disabled Americans
Congressman Joseph Hoeffel (D-PA) today offered an amendment to the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development bill (H.R. 2086) that directs the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a study designed to identify barriers to the use of information technologies for elderly and disabled Americans. The amendment also provides that the Academy identify research needed to remove those barriers and provide guidance on changes in law, policy or regulation to speed the removal of any barriers. The amendment was adopted and the bill passed the House on a voice vote.
"As we move into a new millenium, we need to ensure that all Americans can reap the rewards of a strong economy and rapidly changing technological landscape," said Rep. Hoeffel. "Information technology has the enormous potential to improve the quality of life of elderly Americans and Americans with disabilities - but studies show that these populations are not accessing these technologies as much as they could be, and that a real digital divide is opening up. I want to make sure that we correctly identify and solve the problem."
"Information technology has the promise to significantly increase the degree to which elderly Americans and Americans with disabilities can retain their independence and improve their productivity: People who have trouble leaving their homes can now do almost all their shopping online. People who are ill can research their conditions, interact with others who suffer from the same ailments, do comparative shopping for nursing homes or insurance plans, and contact medical experts - all online. Blind people can use technology that translates the contents of a web page into Braille or computerized voices.
"However, if these and other assistive technologies aren't widely available, aren't compatible with most software or web-sites, or are too expensive for the average consumer, then the benefits of the Internet may not be realized by this population of Americans. Among elderly Americans, about 25% of those without disabilities and 10% of those with disabilities have computers at home, compared to over 50% in the general, non-disabled population. Recent data shows that almost 3 times as many people without disabilities have the ability to connect to the Internet at home as those with disabilities. As the use of information technologies becomes a more central part of education, students with disabilities may find themselves lagging behind their classmates because they will not be able to access vital educational tools and information.
"The amendment I offered will allow us to get a sense of the scope of the problem elderly and disabled Americans have in accessing information technologies - and an idea of how to solve it," said Rep. Hoeffel.
H.R. 2086, the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Act, was produced by the Committee on Science on which Mr. Hoeffel serves. This bill authorizes $6.9 billion over five years to conduct research into advanced computing and communications technologies. The lead agencies in this effort include the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Health, the Department of Energy and NASA. The bill authorizes research programs proposed by the President following expert advice from the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC). This bill received broad support from educators and industry and was endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. Other amendments offered by Democratic members of the Committee, and adopted with bipartisan support, include:
AMENDMENTS ADDED IN COMMITTEE
Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX, Ranking Member on the Basic Research Subcommittee) on Minority and Community College Internships: Expanded the college technology internship program to cover two year colleges and to include internships under the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation program.
Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX, Ranking Member on the Basic Research Subcommittee) on Socioeconomic Research: Authorized NSF to fund research into the socioeconomic implications of advancing information technologies.
Representative Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) on K-12 Education Technologies: Authorized a NSF program to develop, demonstrate, assess and disseminate effective applications for information technologies in K-12 education. Funding begins at $10 million and rises to $12.5 million in the fifth year.
Representative David Wu (D-OR) on Internet Privacy: Authorized a National Research Council study focusing on Internet privacy.
Representative Mike Doyle (D-PA) on Competing Next-Generation Computer Equipment: Expands the base of those eligible to compete for computer equipment research and development funds at NSF.
AMENDMENTS ON THE FLOOR
Representatives Ralph Hall (D-TX, Ranking Member) & David Wu (D-OR) raised the authorization: Raised the authorized levels in the bill for FY2001-2004 to reflect the President's current budget request. The total five year authorization was increased from $4.77 billion to $5.66 billion. The National Science Foundation was the main beneficiary, seeing its five year total grow from $2.95 billion to $3.8 billion.
Representative John Larson (D-CT) on Internet Access in Education: Directs the National Science Foundation to study and report on the best means to provide all public schools and libraries with high-speed, wide bandwidth access to the Internet.