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Accessibility Act is Back At Bat

  • We’re excited to say that Ed Markey (MA) is at it again.  Our local Representative has re-introduced the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2009 (HR 3101).  The previous version died in the House due to a lack of co-sponsorship and little time to build support within that particular session of Congress.  The new bill has about a year and a half (January, 2011) to gain enough support and get passed in this session of Congress.

    More importantly, what would the new bill actually change for the growing digital world?  The legislation aims to ensure that people with hearing or vision disabilities are given access to video programming and IP-based communications.  For video programming, this means video players will not only be required to support captioning functionality, but most content will also be required to offer captions and text aids.  The National Association of the Deaf’s (NAD) press release gives a good outline of what is actually required:

    • Requires closed captioning display capability in all video programming devices.
    • Extends closed captioning obligations to television-type video programming distributed over the Internet (not user-generated content).
    • Requires easy access to closed captions via remote control and on-screen menus, and requires easy access by blind people to television controls and program selection menus.
    • Restores video description rules and requires access to televised emergency programming for people who are blind or have low vision.

    Basically, someone making a homemade video and uploading it to YouTube (user-generated content) would not be required to put captions on their video (although YouTube does support it).  Pretty much any other professionally produced content would require captions or text equivalents.

    In the case of network programming re-purposed for web consumption, it seems reasonable to require content that already had captions to once again be available with captions online.  Then there is the reality of the digital media world of today.  More and more educational institutions, large corporations, and even help desks are utilizing video to teach and and instruct their pupils.  But if there are no captions, those with hearing impediments are completely left behind.  The Caption Action 2 blog gives a pretty clear example of what it’s like to sit in class and watch a video that you can’t hear or even understand.  The blog also references some of the applicable comments left on the NAD’s blog, highlighting more personal experiences.

    In a recent interview Jenifer Simpson, senior director of government affairs at the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), also noted that captions go beyond aids for the hearing impaired.  She notes that people initially complain about the cost of implementation, but ultimately once captions are available, they are enjoyed by many in healthclubs and noisy environments.  Similarly on the web, there are significant increases in retention and learning of video content that has text aids.  Plus, for users who don’t speak English as their native language, captions can go a long way to improve their comprehension of a video.  That’s where we come in – we’re making the caption implementation process more user friendly, more cost-effective, and we’re even adding value for those who may not directly benefit from captions.

    The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2009 is the logical next step for digital media regulation.  Compared to the overall expenditure on video production, text supplements are a minimal expense and can add significant value for site’s user experience as well as for society.

    Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2009 (HR 3101

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