Televised Emergency Information to Be Accessible to Blind

The U.S. government has adopted rules requiring video programming distributors and providers—including program owners—to make televised emergency information accessible to individuals who are blind, or otherwise visually impaired.

On May 24, the Federal Communications Commission posted a Federal Register notice—Accessible Emergency Information; Apparatus Requirements for Emergency Information and Video Description: Implementation of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010—that provides details on the regulation, which takes effect on June 24.

To meet the regulation, video programming providers, distributors and program owners must use a secondary audio stream to convey televised emergency information aurally when such information is conveyed visually during programming other than newscasts, such as in an on-screen crawl, the FCC says.

The requirement will serve the public interest by ensuring that televised emergency information is accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired, the FCC says. In addition, the FCC is requiring certain devices that play back or record video programming to make available video description services and accessible emergency information. Specifically, the device rules require a secondary audio stream, which is currently used to provide video descriptions, be configured to provide aural emergency information.

Examples of the types of emergencies in which an audio stream would be required include tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, tidal waves, earthquakes, icy conditions, heavy snows, widespread fires, discharge of toxic gases, widespread power failures, industrial explosions, civil disorders, school closings and changes in school bus schedules resulting from such conditions, and warnings and watches of impending changes in weather, the FCC says.

Among the “critical details” that are to be made part of such emergency broadcast include the areas affected by the emergency, evacuation orders, specific evacuation routes, approved shelters or the way to take shelter in a dwelling, instructions on securing personal property, road closures and how to obtain relief assistance, the FCC says.

Click here to access the Federal Register notice.