Skip to main content

Blind ambitions split over rules

Only days before the FCC is scheduled to require four hours of voiced description weekly in prime time programming, disagreements within the blind community have the regulators questioning their approach.

At issue is a plan to require the affiliates of the top four broadcast networks in the 25 biggest local markets and cable systems' top five networks to carry descriptions of on-screen action not discussed in a program's dialogue.

The FCC's description plan is supported by a broad coalition of advocacy groups, including the American Council for the Blind. Most of the country's 12 million-plus sight-impaired people lost vision late enough in life to better appreciate descriptions of physical traits and details than would be covered under the government's proposal.

On the other side of the debate is the National Federation for the Blind, which primarily represents people who have been blind since birth and says the prime time descriptions will add only superficial enhancements to TV dialogue.

That group wants the FCC to concentrate on descriptions for on-screen texts such as emergency warnings, weather reports and sports scores. Added descriptions of sit-coms and dramas, such as color of clothing or people's physical traits, have little value to people blind all their lives, says the NFB, which claims 50,000 members.

Despite the controversy, the FCC will likely approve the rules and move forward with requirements for emergency information later.

Last week, the NFB officials, accompanied by the Motion Picture Association of America, urged the FCC to back off its plan. The MPAA, the National Association of Broadcasters and the National Cable Television Association are fighting the plan. The service is expected to cost each station roughly $161,000 in equipment and $4,000 an hour.