FCC reminds VPDs of obligation to make emergency info accessible to hearing, visually disabled

The FCC last week reminded broadcasters, cable operators, satellite TV providers and other video distributors of their obligation to make emergency information accessible to those with hearing and visual disabilities.

With the beginning of the hurricane season and the development of Hurricane Alex, the reminder is particularly timely. According to the public notice, video programming distributors (VPDs) are obligated to make critical details of emergency information accessible — not simply information regarding the immediate geographic area, but also information for people from outside the area who may have been relocated to the area being served.

For example, during Hurricane Katrina areas sheltering people displaced by the disaster but unaffected by its reach were obligated to make emergency information accessible under commission rules, the notice said.

The notice also pointed out that there are times when the airing of emergency information pertaining to a matter of national importance also will be of local concern and, therefore, should be made accessible.

The notice reminded local broadcasters that they are responsible for complying with the requirement regardless of the technology used to deliver its signal to consumers. For the blind or those with low levels of vision, emergency information in the video portion of a regularly scheduled newscast or one that interrupts regular programming must be made available. If the emergency information is not part of a scheduled newscast or one that interrupts programming, such as crawling text during regular programming, an aural tone must accompany the information to alert those with vision disabilities that emergency information is being provided.

VPDs also are obligated to provide emergency information that is accessible to the hearing impaired and deaf. Emergency information made available in the audio portion of the programming must be made available using closed-captioning or other methods of visual presentation.

VPDs that are not permitted by commission rules to count captions created using the electronic newsroom technique are required to provide closed-captioning on all new nonexempt programming, including breaking news and emergency alerts, the notice said.