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FCC: Voice Commands Not Sufficient For Captions

The FCC voted last week to reconsider an earlier proposal and conclude that voice activation is not “reasonably comparable to a button, key, or icon” for accessing closed captioning for the hearing impaired, while the reconsideration order confirms that activation via gestures is reasonably comparable for accessing captions.

That confirms a Nov. 9 report  in Multichannel News that the FCC had decided to modify its proposal along those lines. (

The FCC had proposed that both methods would be acceptable. Groups representing the deaf and hard-of-hearing had asked it to reconsider allowing either voice commands or gesture controls as compliant. Those groups argued that gestures might be problematic for people with mobility issues and voice commands for those who do not speak at or do not speak clearly.

The FCC said there could still be voice controls for activating closed captioning, but that there had to be an alternative method as well.

The FCC actually voted on three things, the order on reconsideration modifying its original decision about gestures and voice commands, a report and order on usability, documentation and program info on PEG channels, and the further notice.

The FCC concluded that MVPDs need to provide additional accessible information, documentation, and training for use of navigation devices, something cable operators, satellite operators and consumer electronics manufacturers all said was not necessary because the current info requirement was sufficient. But the FCC said there still needed to be accessible information about the accessibility features on the navigation devices to fulfill the "usability" requirement.

The FCC concluded that MVPDs are not required to include more detailed information about PEG channels in their programming guides, saying it did not have the authority to do so. That was a victory for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, ACA, Dish, Verizon and others who had argued that was the case.

The FCC did encourage MVPDs to do so when such information was supplied by the PEG channel and it was technically feasible to do so.

The items apply to accessing traditional programming content on TV sets, some mobile devices, DVDs, set-tops and cable modems.

Also as previously reported in Multichannel News, the further notice suggests the FCC has the authority to require manufacturers and multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) to insure consumers can easily access user display settings--font sizes, colors backgrounds--for closed captioning, something the National Cable & Telecommunications Association argued was not anticipated in the statute.

“A subscriber that utilizes closed captioning may opt to change user settings only infrequently,” the trade group had told the FCC, “so requiring a mechanism for the selection of additional menu features that are not commonly used risks making the activation process more complicated, not less.”

The actions are just the latest in the FCC's implementation of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA), which. among other things. requires the FCC to "adopt rules to ensure the accessibility of the user interfaces and video programming guides and menus for digital apparatus and navigation devices."