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Winter 2001 Table of Contents
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FCC Expands Described Video

From Telebility Media, Vol. 9, No. 3, October 2000 (http://www.freedomforum.org/newsstand/reports/telability/printdir.asp) 

Described video on television for blind and visually impaired consumers will significantly expand by April-July 2002 with approval of a new Order and Report by the Federal Communications Commission on July 21. Broadcasters affiliated with the ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC networks in the top 25 markets would be required to provide a minimum of 50 hours per calendar quarter, roughly four hours a week, of description in prime time and/or children's programming.

Cable systems and satellite program providers, with more than 50,000 subscribers, will be required to provide video description for the same amount and type of programming on each of any of the top five national, non-broadcast networks they carry. Any broadcaster or cable system must "pass through" the video description from a provider, if it has the technical equipment necessary to do so.

Video description is transmitted to the audience through the Secondary Audio Programming (SAP) channel. Experience will guide the Commission, the industry, and the public on whether and when to expand the new service in the future.

The new rules apply only to analog transmissions. The Commission said it wanted to bring video description to digital transmissions, but it would not do so until more experience was had with both.

The Commission said there were nearly 12 million persons with a visual difficulty that cannot be corrected with ordinary glasses or contact lenses, and noted that 9 to 14 per cent of the population 75 years or older has vision difficulties. The new service could also benefit nearly 1.5 million children with learning disabilities by capturing their attention and enhancing their information processing skills.

Jim Stovall, president of the Narrative Television Network (NTN), said, "As a blind person myself, and as head of a corporation that, for over a decade, has been a leader in accessible television for blind and visually impaired people, this may well be the most significant day in the lives of your nation's 13 million visually impaired people and their families."

He added, "Narrated programming has opened a whole new world for blind and visually impaired people and their families. The FCC's action will make it a standard throughout the industry and will begin to include the visually impaired in all of the information, educational, and entertainment opportunities that television can provide."

Dr. Margaret Pfanstiehl, one of the nation's leading pioneers in the field of audio description, said, "This is going to mean so much to people across the nation who are not adequately enjoying television because they can't really see the screen." She also praised FCC Chairman William Kennard for his "courageous leadership" in supporting the rules.

Larry Goldberg, director of the Media Access Group at WGBH-TV, commented, "WGBH's Descriptive Video Service, DVS, is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. While we welcome the support of Public Broadcasting and Turner Classic Movie Channel, it really is time for other major information and entertainment providers to join in on this vital and wonderful service for our nation's blind and visually impaired citizens." DVS is a WGBH trademark.

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