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Santa Clara's Tapestry of Excellence:
Access for All
When SCU Professor of Law Allen S. Hammond speaks of disenfranchisement, he is not referring just to voting rights. He is referring to the rights of people to participate in the political process, to have access to medical information, and even to have access to basic services such as banking,things that are, in many cases these days, only accessible through the Internet.
Hammond is director of SCU‰s Broadband Institute of California, as well as president of the Alliance for Public Technology, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering access to affordable and useful information and communication services and technologies to all people including the elderly, minorities, low-income groups, and people with disabilities. Hammond says his goal with these organizations is to get broadband (high-speed) Internet access to all people in California and the United States.
Hammond brings this concern for others to his classroom. In his communications law class, he does not just teach about the Communications Act or FCC regulations, he teaches the socially responsible use of technology.
"As a society we have to be interconnected, we have to have access," he says. "It is unfair to define computer and Internet skills as crucial to a person‰s interaction with society and not make the technology available to everyone. If you can only bank by computer, for example, then you are disenfranchised from managing your own financial affairs if you don‰t have computer access."
SCU law students, who increasingly rely on laptops for note-taking, research, and even taking exams, approach these activities with a different eye when they are acting as research assistants for Hammond. As a result of a grant from the University‰s Center for Science, Technology, and Society, Hammond and his student researchers were able to explore the ways in which the design of computers and Internet technology and services render them inaccessible to people with disabilities.
By understanding the technology and its impact on users with disabilities, Hammond is better able to advise industry, government, and public interest advocates about how to make the Internet more accessible and consistent with the law.
"In my classrooms my students and I talk about not just what is legal but what is fair and what difference it may make in people‰s lives," he says.