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Working with the FCC’s Consumer Advisory Committee

Working with the FCC’s Consumer Advisory Committee

By Cheryl Heppner

Some of you may know that I was reappointed last year to serve
as a representative of NVRC on the Federal Communications
Commission (FCC) Consumer Advisory Committee. The FCC’s work is
very important to NVRC in its quest for accessible
communication, whether by wired and wireless telephone with
telecommunications relay services like IP relay, captioned
telephone and VRS, television with captioning, or emergency
9-1-1 calls by voice, video or text, or many more technologies.

During the last year there have been a lot of changes at the
FCC. There’s a new Chairman, Julius Genachowski. Two veteran
Commissioners, Michael Copps and Robert McDowell, have been
joined by new appointees Mignon Clyburn and Meredith Attwell
Baker. Other people in positions of great responsibility, such
as the chiefs of the bureaus, have also changed, and so have
many of the staff. Thomas Chandler, who has been heading the
Disability Rights Office at the FCC, will soon return to the
U.S. Department of Justice.

Disability Working Group

The latest meetings of the Consumer Advisory Committee were held
last Thursday and Friday. The committee’s Disability Working
Group, which I co-chair with Eric Bridges of the American
Council for the Blind, met for almost two hours. Lise Hamlin of
HLAA, Claude Stout of TDI were there, and Karen Peltz Strauss,
soon to become a Deputy Bureau Chief, was there to listen in.
Our discussion focused on what we believe should be the top
priorities for the FCC to address during the coming weeks and
months. We touched on a long list of topics such as setting
standards for the quality of television captioning and video
description, the process of setting reimbursement rates for
telecommunications relay services, ensuring access to televised
emergency information by those who are blind or visually
impaired, and the need for the agency to update and implement
new rules and regulations for today’s technology.

It’s almost overwhelming to look at the backlog of things NVRC
has worked on with the FCC that still haven’t been addressed.
Does anybody remember how much time and energy we spent working
with other organizations to submit what we called the “caption
quality petition” more than 5 years ago? Or our work to get the
word out about the FCC’s granting exemptions from captioning,
while working to get that decision reversed? No action has been
taken to address the petition to improve caption quality, and
over 700 waivers are still in effect.

Our working group also talked about the need to work more
closely with the companies that make the equipment we use to
watch television so we can be sure the new technologies are
still accessible to us. The first 3-D televisions are rolling
onto shelves at stores like Best Buy, and we don’t yet know how
they will work with captioning. One individual who has given
presentations on 3-D television issues calls 3-D TVs “the most
dangerous TV ever made,” and lest you think he was talking about
rogue captions, there are many other concerns. Some people get
queasy watching movies in 3-D because our eyes and brains just
aren’t wired for it.

And hey, while we’re celebrating how more members of the
Consumer Electronics Association have listened to our plea for a
caption button on each TV remote, it would be nice to cut down
on hunting time by having the button’s location jump out right
away or be in the same general location on every remote. If you
travel a lot, I’m sure you’d also love to be able to get your
captions without feeling like you’re in training to become an
electronics engineer. It seems like every hotel television
either has a different menu to get the captions or you have to
get a tech person to come to your room with a master remote to
turn them on.

Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau

This was our first Consumer Advisory Committee meeting with the
new Bureau Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs
Bureau, Joel Gurin. How could I not like this guy? He and I come
from the same background, journalism and nonprofit management.
In his case, the nonprofit was on a much greater scale; he
helped revolutionize Consumer Reports to bring its power to the
Web and many was involved in many other advances. At the FCC,
one of the most recent innovations has been FCC Connect, which
is still being tested. Go to http://fcc.gov/connect/ and you’ll
find 13 different ways you can keep in touch with the FCC’s
actions and provide input. Click on one of them,
OpenInternet.gov, to see blog discussions about the Open
Internet proceeding. Clearly the FCC is setting a new standard
for transparency and consumer input.

Mr. Gurin has a Consumer Task Force which consists of the chiefs
of all seven of the FCC’s bureaus. His goal is to make the FCC a
consumer-responsive consumer protection agency. One of the
things the FCC has done is to go through old video footage and
use the video’s closed captions to translate the information to
other languages. Those complaints about the cost and time to put
in ramps for wheelchairs evaporated once the world began
discovering that they make life better for delivery people and
those pushing baby strollers. Now there’s recognition of what
we’ve said all along — our captions give a valuable tool for
many, many people who aren’t deaf or hard of hearing.

(c)2010 by Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard
of Hearing Persons (NVRC), 3951 Pender Drive, Suite 130,
Fairfax, VA 22030; http://www.nvrc.org; 703-352-9055 V, 703-352-9056
TTY, 703-352-9058 Fax.

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