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FCC Boosting Open Video Platform for Disabled

FCC 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 Thursday 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.” 

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

What the open source platform will do, says the spokesperson, is to "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 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.