Hurricane Andrew shown as a big red ring spinning over the map of South Florida Yesterday, the Media Bureau* at the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) announced that is seeking comments on a joint petition related to accessibility of emergency information requirements.  This waiver has been requested jointly by the American Council of the Blind (ACB), the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). Comments bill be received until April 13, 2018.

The FCC rules requires video programming providers to ensure that emergency information provided visually during non-newscast programming is made accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired.  The three organizations are asking for a 5-year extension of an existing waiver on the rules requiring broadcasters to provide an aural representation of visual non-textual emergency information, such as radar maps or other graphics, on a secondary audio stream. An example of such image is the Hurricane Andrew image spinning over the map of South Florida. That image was taken from NOAA/AOML Miami, FL,

In other words, currently, when programmers are showing emergency information related, for example, to a storm and they show the storm moving over a certain area on a map, since that information is graphic it can't be accessed by a visually impaired person.  To make that information about the storm accessible, the programmers need to provide an automatic and accurate description of the most important elements of the image, such as, the direction in which the storm is moving, what areas are being affected, what is the intensity of the storm over the different areas of the map, etc.  Unfortunately, at this moment it is not possible to provide that information automatically in a text form so it can be subsequently transmitted in an aural form on a secondary audio channel for the visual impaired individuals to hear it. 

If the waiver extension is granted, this will be the third one. The original deadline for compliance was May 26, 2015.  An 18-month waiver was granted on that date, and later a second 18-month waiver was granted again.  The ACB, AFB and NAB have not been able to find a workable technical solution for aurally describing visual, non-textual information in emergency crawls.  They expect that during the next 5 years, when the current broadcasting system has transitioned to  technologies with greater potential,  a solution will be available. 

The positive aspect of all this is that the broadcasters are working with the ACB and the AFB, who represent the users.  Hopefully, thanks to working jointly, a good solution will be eventually provided.


* "The Media Bureau plays a key role in promoting innovation in the media marketplace, as it develops, recommends, and administers the policy and licensing programs relating to the media industry, including cable television, broadcast television, and radio." 



"Media bureau seeks comment on joint petition for extension of waiver of accessible emergency information requirements of the American Council of the Blind, the American Foundation for the Blind, and the National Association of Broadcasters." Federal Communications Commission, March 26 2018,

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