FCC Requirements for Emergency Video Programming Accessibility to Persons with Hearing and Visual Disabilities
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules require broadcasters and cable operators to make local emergency information accessible to persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, and to persons who are blind or have visual disabilities. This rule means that emergency information must be provided both aurally and in a visual format.
What Qualifies as an Emergency?
Emergency information is information that is intended to further the protection of life, health, safety, or property. Examples include, but are not limited to, the following:
* immediate weather situations: tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, tidal waves, earthquakes, icing conditions, heavy snows, widespread fires, warnings, and watches of impending changes in weather.
* community situations such as: discharge of toxic gases, widespread power failures, industrial explosions, civil disorders, school closings, and changes in school bus schedules resulting from such conditions.
How Does the Emergency Information Need to Be Made Accessible?
In the case of persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, emergency information that is provided in the audio portion of programming must be provided either using closed captioning or other methods of visual presentation, such as open captioning, crawls or scrolls that appear on the screen. Emergency information provided by means other than closed captioning should not block any closed captioning, and closed captioning should not block any emergency information provided by means other than closed captioning. Closed captions are visual text displays that are hidden in the video signal. You can access closed captions through your remote control or on-screen menu (all TVs with a 13-inch or larger diameter screen manufactured after 1993 have caption decoder circuitry) or through a special decoder. Open captions are an integral part of the television picture, like subtitles in a movie. In other words, open captions cannot be turned off. Text that advances very slowly across the bottom of the screen is referred to as a crawl; displayed text or graphics that move up and down the screen are said to scroll.
In the case of persons who are visually impaired, emergency information that is provided in the video portion of a regularly scheduled newscast or a newscast that interrupts regular programming must be made accessible. This requires the aural description of emergency information in the main audio. If the emergency information is being provided in the video portion of programming that is not a regularly scheduled newscast or a newscast that interrupts regular programming (e.g., the programmer provides the emergency information through “crawling” or “scrolling” during regular programming), this information must be accompanied by an aural tone. This tone is to alert persons with vision disabilities that the broadcaster is providing emergency information, and alert such persons to tune to another source, such as a radio, for more information.
What Information about the Emergency Must Be Provided?
The information provided visually and aurally must include critical details regarding the emergency and how to respond. Critical details could include, among other things:
* specific details regarding the areas that will be affected by the emergency;
* evacuation orders, detailed descriptions of areas to be evacuated, and specific evacuation routes; and
* approved shelters or the way to take shelter in one’s home, instructions on how to secure personal property, road closures, and how to obtain relief assistance.
In determining whether particular details need to be presented visually and aurally, programmers may rely on their own good faith judgments.
There could be a limited number of instances when an emergency affects the broadcast station or non-broadcast network or distributor and it may be impossible to provide accessible emergency information.