Fwd: Headlines: Disability Access/DTV

Gary Handman (ghandman@library.berkeley.edu)
Tue, 5 Jan 1999 10:50:52 -0800 (PST)

>As noted last week, the President's Advisory Committee on Public Interest
>Obligations of Digital Television Broadcasters sent its recommendations to
>Vice President Gore on December 18. The report, Charting the Digital
>Broadcasting Future, is ~160 pages. It is available online as a large PDF
>file, but we wanted to offer some "bite-sized" chunks that are easier to
>read and digest. At the risk of accusation of being Lucas imitators, today
>we post recommendations 7, 8 and 9 which have not been getting much press:
>1) Disability Access to Digital Programming, 2) Disaster Warnings in the
>Digital Age, and 3) Diversity in Broadcasting. We will post more after the
>holidays. We welcome comments on the report and will be happy to make them
>all available on a website that will be the online home of the PIAC legacy
>at <www.benton.org/PIAC>.
>Disability Access to Digital Programming
>Broadcasters should take full advantage of new digital closed captioning
>technologies to provide maximum choice and quality for Americans with
>disabilities, where doing so would not impose an undue burden on the
>broadcasters. These steps should include the gradual expansion of captioning
>on PSAs, public affairs programming, and political programming; the
>allocation of sufficient audio bandwidth for the transmission and delivery
>of video description; disability access to ancillary and supplementary
>services; and collaboration between regulatory authorities and set
>manufacturers to ensure the most efficient, inexpensive, and innovative
>capabilities for disability access.
>The Telecommunications Act of 1996 mandated that broadcast and cable
>programming be fully accessible through the provision of closed captioning.
>13 Recently, the FCC promulgated regulations to implement Section 305 of the
>Act, requiring 100 percent of new television programming to be captioned
>over an 8-year period, and 75 percent of "pre-rule" programming to be
>captioned over a 10-year period. 14 The obligation to provide captioning
>access will, of course, continue into the digital era. The 1990 Television
>Decoder Circuitry Act requires that new television technologies, such as
>digital technologies, be capable of transmitting closed captions. 15 Passage
>of this legislation and Section 305 reflect Congress’ intent to ensure that
>our Nation’s 28 million Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing continue
>to receive access to televised news, information, education, and
>entertainment in the digital age.
>Digital technology will open new avenues to enhance and expand captioning
>access. For example, the ability to alter the size of captions will enable
>viewers to see both captions and other text appearing on a television
>screen. The Advisory Committee recommends that broadcasters take full
>advantage of new digital closed captioning technologies to provide maximum
>choice and quality for caption viewers, and to work to make captioning in
>the digital age functionally equivalent to audio transmissions.
>The FCC’s rules on captioning currently exempt certain categories of
>programming, including advertisements under 5 minutes, certain late-night
>programming, and certain local non-repeat programming. 16 Thus, benefits
>derived from recommendations made elsewhere in this Report—for example,
>recommendations made with respect to PSAs, public affairs programming, and
>political discourse—will not reach deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers under
>existing FCC rules. It is for this reason that we have included within our
>minimum public interest requirements a requirement for the gradual expansion
>of captioning on PSAs, public affairs programming, and political
>programming, where doing so would not impose an undue burden on a digital
>television broadcaster.
>Section 305 of the Telecommunications Act also directed the FCC to conduct
>an inquiry into the provision of video description on video programming. 17
>Video description provides a narration for blind and visually disabled
>viewers that consists of verbal descriptions of key visual elements in a
>television program, which are inserted into natural pauses in the program’s
>dialogue. Utilization of video description as a form of providing access has
>been hindered by the analog standard, which only permits delivery of
>descriptions via the secondary audio program channel. In contrast, digital
>technology offers multiple audio channels, with significantly greater
>bandwidth, that can more easily accommodate video descriptions. We recommend
>that broadcasters allocate sufficient audio bandwidth for the transmission
>and delivery of video description in the digital age to make expanded use of
>this access technology technically feasible.
>The Telecommunications Act of 1996 allows broadcasters to provide ancillary
>and supplementary services using a portion of the digital spectrum. 18 The
>Advisory Committee recommends that broadcasters ensure that the provision of
>ancillary and supplementary services not impinge upon the 9600 baud
>bandwidth currently set aside for captioning of digital programs. At the
>same time, we recommend that as broadcasters explore new digital
>technologies, they vigorously explore ways to expand access to these
>ancillary and supplementary services by individuals with disabilities. The
>provision of these services, which as noted, may include new kinds of video
>services, computer software distribution, interactive services, and data
>transmissions, can open a world of opportunities for individuals with
>disabilities who are seeking full participation in our society. The
>resulting greater access in employment, education, recreation, and other
>areas can provide significant benefits to individuals with disabilities and
>to society as a whole. Drawing upon the flexibility and capacity of digital
>technology, broadcasters should provide such disability access to their
>ancillary and supplementary services, where doing so would not impose an
>undue burden. Among other things, this would entail offering a text option
>for material that is presented orally and an audio option for material
>otherwise presented visually.
>Finally, just as with emergency notifications, we recommend that the FCC and
>other regulatory authorities work with set manufacturers to ensure that
>modifications in audio channels, decoders, and other technical areas be
>built to ensure the most efficient, inexpensive, and innovative capabilities
>for disability access.
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Gary Handman
Media Resources Center
Moffitt Library
UC Berkeley, CA 94720-6000

"You are looking into the mind of home video. It is innocent, it is aimless,
it is determined, it is real" --Don DeLillo, Underworld