The Federal Communications Commission has set up a working group to look at the technology used to make television accessible to the deaf or hard of hearing, and those who are blind or have a vision disability. The goal is to evaluate whether the digital transition will create accessibility problems.

Members of the group include representatives of the broadcast, cable, satellite and LEC video industries; manufacturers of consumer electronics; manufacturers of equipment used in, or connected with, the processing and encoding of closed captions and video description; consumer electronics retailers; closed captioning and video description providers; and consumers of closed captions and video description.

The FCC anticipates that some of the closed captioning-related issues specifically arising in the context of the DTV transition include the following:

  • Lack of captions or garbled captions on HD channels
  • HD set-top box stripping or garbling captions on HD channels
  • Concern that HDMI cables may not pass through the captions
  • VPD or station equipment cannot properly deliver up-converted (analog-to-digital) captions
  • Captions readable by digital-to-analog converter boxes not being transmitted
  • Problems receiving captions through digital-to-analog converter boxes or multi-channel VPD set-top boxes
  • Overlapping captions (two lines of captions displayed over each other)
  • Captions flashing on and off
  • Captions that inadvertently switch to text mode, causing 95 percent of the screen image to be obscured
  • Highly difficult user interfaces or directions causing users to conclude that captions are unavailable on their TV sets

The working group will assess the technology used to provide closed captioning and video description, identify any potential for disruption of those services in conjunction with the DTV transition, and propose fixes if any problems are identified. 

The group will have to work fast, as the final transition deadline is June 12.

The working group members include: From the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), Andy Scott; from Comcast, Charlie Kennamer; National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) at WGBH, Larry Goldberg; NAB, Graham Jones; EchoStar, John Card; DirecTV, Robert Gabrielli; CBS, Bob Seidel; National Captioning Institute (NCI), Marc Okrand; Motorola, Jeff Newdeck; Panasonic, Tony Jaisnowski; CaptionMax, Gerald Freda; PBS, Stephen Scheel; Verizon, Jimmy Ho; Norpak, Bob Fitzgerald; Vitac, Tim Taylor; CEA, Brian Markwalter; LG, John Taylor; AT&T, Chris Boyer; Evertz Microsystems, Michael Kirouac; EEG, Phil McLaughlin; ABC, David Dreispan; Fox, Andy Setos; NBC, Greg DePriest; Speech Conversion Technologies, Gregory Schmidt.

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