23 MAY 2005

Senator Rick Santorum's Proposed National Weather
Service Duties Act Endangers People with Disabilities

Coalition of Disability Organizations Urges Defeat of Senate Bill 786

Many of the nation's most prominent disability organizations and advocates, including the National Organization on Disability's Emergency Preparedness Initiative, the Progressive Center for Independent Living, Telecommunications for the Deaf, Inc., the Northern Virginia Resource Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons, the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Consumer Advocacy Network, and Emergency Management & Special Needs consulting firm EAD & Associates, LLC, have united in opposition to Senate Bill 786 (The National Weather Services Duties Act of 2005) which, if passed, could have a disproportionate, detrimental impact on the health and safety of the nation's 54 million people with disabilities.

The bill, introduced by Senator Rick Santorum on April 14, 2005, would limit the information that the National Weather Service (NWS) can provide to the public by barring it from providing any service that competes with private companies.

Such companies, including The Weather Channel and AccuWeather, which is based in Sen. Santorum's home state of Pennsylvania, offer their own forecasts through paid services and free ad-supported Web sites which benefit from repackaging the data that the tax-funded NWS gives away.

"Aside from the folly of making the public pay for information that their tax dollars have already helped collect, this proposed bill will result in the elimination of many established technological systems that help ensure the timely and complete dissemination of critical information to individuals with disabilities," says Claude Stout, Executive Director, Telecommunications for the Deaf, Inc.

The NWS, which is administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), provides comprehensive weather information in compliance with Section 508 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act. This Act requires that individuals with disabilities, who are members of the public seeking information or services from a Federal department or agency, have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to that provided to the public without disabilities.

Placing government-collected and accessibility-protected weather information into private hands puts at risk these accessibility protections and seriously compromises the rights and safety of citizens with disabilities.

"At a time when emergency preparedness planning is a vital exercise for all Americans, limiting the ways that the NWS can distribute information is both disturbing and dangerous," says Elizabeth Davis, Managing Director of EAD & Associates, LLC.

Cheryl Heppner, Director for the Northern Virginia Resource Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons adds, "People with disabilities take their safety preparedness seriously, and there is a large population of people with disabilities who rely on the NWS to provide general and emergency information in technologically accessible ways."

"By taking away time-tested redundancies for the corporate and monetary interests of a few, Senator Santorum is putting money ahead of the personal safety of a large segment of the American population," says Hilary Styron, Acting Director of the National Organization on Disability's Emergency Preparedness Initiative.

Organizations or individuals interested in helping defeat Senator Santorum's bill are encouraged to call or write to their Senator, as well as express their opposition directly to Senator Santorum.

Senator Santorum can be reached at 202-224-6324.