FCC Boosting Open Video Platform for the Deaf

WASHINGTON -- Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler wants to give people with disabilities a hand. Make that two hands, and in the process, a stronger voice.

Wheeler plans to announce today at the TDI Conference in Baltimore that the FCC is making available an open-source video platform to make it easier for the deaf, hard of hearing and deaf-blind community to communicate with federal agencies and businesses in American Sign Language (ASL).

“It is time for people who speak with their hands and hear with their eyes to enjoy modern advancements in communications technologies,” Wheeler planned to tell the conference, according to the commission, which announced the initiative in tandem with the speech. “It’s time for you to be able to have your video products work together, so you can call whomever you wish, whenever you wish, from anywhere. The platform we are launching has tremendous potential to ensure that you will be able to do this.” 

The FCC already has a direct video system -- it was the first federal agency to use interactive video to give the deaf and hard-of-hearing access to ASL consumer support, an agency spokesperson said -- as does the Small Business Administration. The Census Bureau, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the City of New York have all announced plans to use such a system.

The open source platform will "make it easier for other agencies as well as businesses to provide it and allow people to build off of the open source platform to find innovative ways to provide even more accessibilities," the spokesperson said.

The platform will provide mobile and desktop applications that will allow for voice and text, and for relay services to download to allow for direct communications. It will also provide a set of interoperability standards to ensure "seamless usability while maintaining freedom of choice for all ASL users."

A beta version is planned for later this year, with a final version targeted for spring.

Wheeler has said that deployment of advance communications to all Americans means the disabled community, and he has backed that up with a number of initiatives, mostly in implementing the Twenty First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. Those include text-to-911, accessibility of emergency information, closed captioning standards and creating a disability advisory committee.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.