[AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY]
Thank you very much, Dr. Maurer, for hosting this event. And, it's great to be here at this International Braille and Technology Center ... the world's largest and most extensive center for demonstrating and evaluating technologies that serve the needs of the blind.
On behalf of Secretary of Commerce Don Evans, I want to acknowledge the Federation's previous work with the Commerce Department/NIST, and emphasize how excited we are about the continuation of the partnership ... I understand that Federation members will provide "field testing" of the remarkable technology being showcased today.
This collaborative effort epitomizes the spirit of President Bush's New Freedom Initiative and this Administration's commitment to improving the quality of life for all Americans with disabilities.
There are over 50 million Americans with disabilities ... and the New Freedom Initiative aims to tear down the barriers to equality that confront many of them everyday. The Initiative is focused on increasing the development of and access to assistive and universally designed technologies, expanding educational opportunities, further integrating Americans with disabilities into the workforce, and helping remove barriers to full participation in community life.
We know, for example, that the unemployment rate for Americans with disabilities is very high - around 70%. This is unacceptable—we must reduce that staggering statistic ... not only because millions of Americans with disabilities want and deserve good jobs ... but also because American businesses need the productivity and creativity of all citizens to innovate and make our economy grow. We are strongly committed to this idea at the Commerce Department, and throughout the federal government. Just last week I participated in an event with several other agencies at which we unveiled a new web site, www.disabilityinfo.gov ... a comprehensive source for information about disability-related government resources.
Devices like this and others developed with federal dollars allow the blind to participate in the information revolution. They are prime examples of what we can do, through collaboration and cutting-edge government research, to improve the lives of all Americans and enable economic growth ... and they are exactly the types of assistive technologies that the New Freedom Initiative encourages.
Now, let me tell you a little bit about the tactile graphic display that you see here in front of me. This technology brings electronic images to the blind and visually impaired in the same way that Braille makes words readable.
This prototype conveys scanned illustrations, map outlines or other graphical images to the fingertips. It can translate images displayed on Internet Web pages or in electronic books.
The machine uses about 3,600 small pins that can be raised in any pattern, and then locked into place. And the display is refreshable, allowing a person to feel a series of images on the reusable surface.
Like any technology in its early development stage, moving this prototype to the marketplace will require consumer testing ... letting those who will actually use the product weigh in with suggestions for improving it.
And that's what we're celebrating here today. The collaboration between the Commerce Department and the NFB will help prepare this device to move to the next level ... and eventually, through the private sector's further development and product commercialization, it will be in the homes, schools, and workplaces of those who will greatly benefit from it.
I know that Federation members put an early version of NIST's rotating-wheel Braille reader through its paces and gave the designers valuable ideas for making that device more user-friendly and effective. Today, the current Braille reader is ready for licensing by the company or companies that can bring this low-cost, powerful tool to the marketplace.
In just one moment, I'm going to ask John Roberts, the NIST project leader, and Curtis Chong, Director of Technology for the Federation, to demonstrate this graphic display device for you.
But before I do that, let me again thank everyone at the Federation for your participation today and for your on-going partnership ... and I want to thank NIST for the great work that our researchers are doing there ... All of us are working together to expand education and employment opportunities for Americans with disabilities ... to allow all Americans to pursue their dreams. This important work will benefit us all.