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Making Access Accessible to All

When municipalities began to put in sidewalk ramps and curb cuts, most people thought only wheelchair users would benefit. But it turned out the ramps were very popular with delivery people, travelers, parents pushing strollers, senior citizens, and many others. Accessibility, we soon learned, was not just for disabled people.

The same is true of media accessibility. TV captions, invented to make programs understandable to hearing-impaired viewers, are now displayed in nearly every public facility: bars, hospitals, restaurants, airports. Families use captions to help them understand lyrics on MTV, foreign accents on Masterpiece Theatre, and any show when the phone rings or the vacuum is running. And video description (also called audio description), intended to benefit vision-impaired viewers, is beginning to gain wide acceptance.

For three decades, these services have been provided by specialists—usually small businesses and agencies. They have a lot in common: deep concern for the consumer who relies on captioning or description, highly trained college-educated employees, no-frills workplaces, close relationships with their customers. And, until now, no way to communicate with each other to set specifications, boost the industry, enjoy professional exchange, and share information with each other, consumers and their media clients.

All that has changed with the creation of the Accessible Media Industry Coalition (AMIC) this month. Service providers began talking in fall 2002 and created an organizing committee to help them find ways to work together. The number of companies interested in the project grew as word spread. Today, there are 24 founding members in the Coalition.

AMIC arrives just in time. Accessibility is a hot-button issue among media companies and in Washington. It is difficult for small companies to stay on top of all the laws and regulations, and the regulators are looking for guidance, too. Most of all, consumers don't know where to turn for help.

For me, AMIC represents a long-held dream. I have worked for 30 years in the captioning industry for three companies, all founding members of AMIC. I have seen firsthand the difficulties that arise when service providers have no forum for professional development or exchange. AMIC will help solve those problems and improve the quality of captioning and description overall.

If you know a company that provides media accessibility services that is not in AMIC, have them contact me. We want to grow into a major force for service to our members, to program providers, and to the community at large. With the help of our friends in the media who care about reaching all viewers, AMIC will make media accessibility as much a part of everyday living as ramps and curb cuts.