Accessibility to television is covered under Section 713 of Communications Act 1934 relating to video programming accessibility and the related Part 79.1 of the Code of Federal Regulations covers captioning levels. Also, the recently adopted Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 has significantly improved access.
The basic requirements are:
- 100% of non-exempt new programming to be captioned
- 75% of pre-rule programming to be captioned (programs before 2002 for digital programs)
- 100% of Spanish language programming to be captioned by 2010, with some exemptions
- Electronic program guides must be made accessible
- The top four network channels and top five cable channels will provide audio description (AD) on 7 hours of programming per week
- Televised emergency information will be accessible to the blind and vision impaired
There are two types of exemptions built into the regulations:
- Self-implementing exemptions which automatically exempt programs between 2 am and 6 am, captioning that would cost more than 2% of gross revenue, programs primarily in a language other than English or Spanish and non-vocal, music programs
- Exemptions based on undue burden which include programs where video program service providers can apply to the FCC for an exemption on captioning that would be a significant difficulty or expense
The United States also regulates the technology used to display captions with section 303 (u) of the Communications Act 1934 requiring that any television, locally produced or imported, with a screen larger than 13” must be able display captions and AD.
Under requirement from the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the US media and communications regulator, released a Report and Order on 25 August 2011 requiring the major television networks provide audio description on their programming.
In brief, the requirements, which come into effect on 8 October, are as follows:
- ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC affiliates in the top 25 market areas and cable and satellite television providers with more than 50,000 subscribers to provide video description
- ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, USA, the Disney Channel, TNT, Nickelodeon, and TBS are each required to provide 50 hours of video-described prime time or children’s programming per calendar quarter
- In general, once a program is broadcast with audio description, it that program is passed through to another broadcaster or aired again, it must be broadcast with the audio description
- Full compliance with the rules is required on July 1, 2012.
Any viewer may complain to the FCC if these requirements are not met.
Online media and digital technology
In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to require Federal agencies to make their information and communications technology (ICT) accessible to people with disabilities. Section 508 was enacted to eliminate barriers in information technology, open new opportunities for people with disabilities, and encourage development of technologies that will help achieve these goals. The law applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology. Under Section 508 (29 U.S.C. ‘794 d), agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to access available to others.
Because the Federal Government is an extremely large consumer in the ICT market, Section 508 effectively required many ICT manufacturers to make their products accessible, or else lose business with the Federal Government. As such, Section 508 caused somewhat of a shift in the market, with devices designed initially to be accessible for the Federal Government now made available to the public at large.
The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 is the other major piece of legislation covering online media and digital technology. The major requirements in the Act include the following:
- All captioned television programs will be captioned when delivered over the Internet
- Receiving devices of any size will be capable of displaying closed captions, delivering AD, and accessing emergency information
- Controls on televisions and set-top boxes will be accessible, and captions and AD easy to access
- Manufacturers of devices designed to receive or play back video programming make controls of built-in functions accessible to and usable by individuals who are blind or have low vision, if achievable, to provide access to AD features through a mechanism that is reasonably comparable to a button, key, or icon designated for activating accessibility features;
- All internet-capable devices, such as smart phones, are to be made accessible, if achievable
The Act will thus have far-reaching effects in the US, particularly in the provision of AD and access to online video material. Its scope sets new benchmarks for access legislation, and it is hoped that some of the technical developments it encourages will also filter through to other countries including Australia.
Furthermore, the the major US television stations provide closed captions on their streamed and download video. These are restricted to people living within the USA. For example, NBC’s Video Rewind shows captions on full-length episodes of its hit TV shows and the captions appear on the right hand side of the viewing screen, rather than the customary position under the viewing screen.
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