NAB to FCC: Audible Accessibility Waiver Still Needed

Exterior of the FCC building in Washington, D.C.
(Image credit: FCC)

The National Association of Broadcasters said there is still essentially no practical way to provide audio descriptions of "dynamic" visual emergency information, like weather radar maps, for the blind and visually impaired.

Currently broadcasters do not have to do that under a five-year waiver of the requirement that "emergency information provided visually during non-newscast video programming be made audibly accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired."

Related: FCC Expands Audio Descriptions

Actually, the requirement was supposed to kick in in 2015, but broadcasters are on their second waiver.

In a congressionally mandated report to the FCC this month and midway through that waiver--which expires in 2023--the National Association of Broadcasters said that the American Council of the Blind (ACB) and the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), which support the waiver, agree with their take on the current status of technology.

NAB said it has continued to engage with software developers, TV station groups and the disability community, but that a technical solution for audio descriptions of dynamic images is still not available.

Without the waiver, NAB said, "stations may be compelled to forego adding a graphic image to a crawl, if there is a risk that the image contains some critical details that must be converted to speech and are not also contained in the crawl."

NAB said it does not think the audible crawl rule would be used very much since broadcasters usually provide the graphic to illustrate information already in the crawl.

It is hopeful that the transition to the ATSC 3.0 broadcast transmission standard may provide an avenue to deploying applications that can automatically describe graphic video content, that may not be in the near term. And while it is hopeful that NAB continues to anticipate that ATSC 3.0 may facilitate the deployment of applications capable of automatically describing graphic video content, although not necessarily in the near term.

And while it is hopeful that at some point neither the waiver, nor the rule, will be necessary, that day has not yet come.

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.