Due to a series of legal and regulatory setbacks, media accessibility regulations for consumers who are blind and visually impaired have lagged significantly behind those for deaf individuals. Until April 2014, when the Federal Communications Commission’s Emergency Information Order took effect, blind consumers were left “in the dark” when their safety mattered most—during weather emergencies—because visual emergency information displayed in the on-screen crawl during television programming was not accessible in an aural format. The Commission now mandates that this information be provided in an aural form through the secondary audio stream for linear programming viewed on televisions and mobile devices and other “second screens” used inside the home over the MVPD’s network, but this requirement leaves many issues unresolved. This Issue Brief examines and analyzes the arguments made by industry and consumer groups for and against expanded regulation, and makes several recommendations that efficiently fill gaps in the current regulatory requirements for accessible emergency information. These recommendations are technically feasible, not unduly burdensome, and necessary to effectuate the purpose of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010. Specifically, the Commission can extend emergency information regulations to the entities it failed to reach with its Emergency Information Order and Second Report and Order by adopting the Linear Programming Definition of an MVPD that it puts forth in its MVPD Definition NPRM. The Commission should adopt this definition, thereby expanding the scope of entities required to comply with the Emergency Information Order, but it should curtail the Order’s rigidity by not passing prioritization guidelines and by removing the requirement to include school closures and changes in the bus schedule in the secondary audio stream.
Elana Reman, The Silence After the Beep: Envisioning an Emergency Information System to Serve the Visually Impaired, 14 Duke Law & Technology Review 317-345 (2016)