House Approves Captioning and Accessibility Bill

WASHINGTON: Legislation that could make a wide variety of communications and video technologies more accessible to millions of Americans with disabilities is working its way through Congress. 

The U.S. House on Monday passed the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, sponsored by Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass. The bill goes next to the Senate.

It includes provisions to expand the availability of audio descriptions of television shows to media markets across the country; new requirements to ensure closed-captioned television programs are also closed captioned for viewing on the Internet; and measures to increase the ability for Americans who are blind to access the Internet from smartphones. 

To achieve its intent, the bill establishes an FCC advisory committee to examine closed captioning, video description; and access to emergency information, programming guides, menus and user interfaces. It will require most video devices, large and small, to include the capacity for audio descriptions of video content, and for closed captioning of audio content. 

Another provision directs the FCC to make rules on captioning for video over the Internet. Consumer-generated content is exempted. Government-made video is covered by a previous presidential order.

An amendment that passed unanimously during markup will also provide up to $10 million a year out of the FCC’s existing Telecommunications Relay Fund for the specialized equipment that low-income deaf-blind Americans need to access the Internet, use special text telephones to communicate, and access advanced communications services such as e-mail. 

“In the 21st century, individuals with disabilities must be able to get on to the Internet from wherever they happen to be--using online ramps to the Web just as the ADA mandated physical ramps into buildings 20 years ago,” Markey said in a statement. “Back then, Americans with disabilities couldn’t get around if buildings weren’t wheelchair accessible; today it’s about being Web accessible.” -- From Government Video

21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act.”

The committee staff memo on the bill.