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Audio, Visually Impaired Pitch FCC on Expanding Audio Description to Streaming

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(Image credit: FCC)

WASHINGTON—As streaming continues to grow around the world, the audio and visually impaired communities don’t want to be left behind. In a meeting in early March, representatives for these communities met with the FCC to discuss how to improve accessibility issues for streaming and beyond.

A letter recapping the meeting between representatives from multiple organizations representing the deaf, hard of hearing and blind communities with Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel was filed with the commission. In it, the groups encouraged the FCC to focus on how it can strengthen its leadership on accessibility issues, including automatic speech recognition (ASR) for video programming, audio description and other advanced communication services.

The groups expressed their appreciation for the FCC’s actions to expand audio description so that over the next four years it will become required in markets covering 87% of broadcast television consumers. Still, those who need audio description or ASR are looking for it beyond broadcast.

The groups asked that the FCC work with Congress to expand coverage of audio description to internet programming. They point out that streaming services are not covered under FCC description rules. Though some, like Apple TV+, have made efforts to improve their service, others may not have certain levels of accessibility—i.e. Netflix apps’ audio description depends on what third-party hardware it is downloaded on.

It wasn’t just streaming that was brought up during the meeting. ASR is beginning to replace human captioners for live programming, resulting in a drop in quality, per the groups. Members of the deaf and hard of hearing community specifically cited the Super Bowl and Presidential Inauguration as two recent examples.

The groups want the FCC to consider how ASR fits within its best practices for the short term, and in the long term it wants established quality metrics for ASR. They also say the FCC should review the Telecommunications Act of 1996, specifically its ability to regulate video on the internet as a result of the increase in streaming services.

Other requests include creating quality standards for audio description; updates to rules on the number of hours required to mandate audio description, as more networks are filing waivers; and an expansion of audio description in non-English languages.

For more information, read the full letter on the FCC website