Q&A: FCC Audio Description Requirements

October 17, 2017 BY ELISA EDELBERG
Updated: January 4, 2018

For many, audio description is uncharted land. But, with legal requirements increasing, it’s a good idea to get on board now! In recent years, the FCC has been actively increasing audio description requirements through the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA).

Attorney Advisor at the Disability Rights Office of the FCC, Will Schell, gives an informative presentation on audio description requirements and answers many of the questions about where we might be headed next. Check out this Q&A for a brief understanding of the reasons for the increases, who these increases impact, and best practices for audio description according to the FCC. If you’re still hungry for more be sure to watch the full webinar here!

There are no quality standards right now that we have. It’s a really difficult question, because you get into some subjective qualities.

Are there any plans to regulate audio description quality?

WILL SCHELL: There are no quality standards right now that we have. It’s a really difficult question, because you get into some subjective qualities. If anyone was going to get into this space, I imagine that it would start with a generalized practice of quality being developed by the industry and commented and supported by consumers or users of audio description, probably before the FCC gets involved with regulating this area. Having said that, I’m not aware of any efforts right now for quality standards to be put into place, although there are always conversations about how to raise the quality standards.

Could you talk about any future requirements for web-based media companies to provide audio or video descriptions?

WILL SCHELL: There are no specific FCC actions going on right now, or any word that I’ve heard about web-based media audio description requirements. Many of the web-based media video programming services provide a lot of audio description. I think these voluntary actions by the video programmers on the internet have really led to much more awareness that audio description exists. I think it’s bringing audio description into the public eye.

My personal impression is that the internet video programming is competing for audio description rather than complying with regulations. I don’t see any future actions. Everything can change, but there’s nothing on the horizon right now.

If there is a serious gap between the law and what is provided by a broadcast company, how does one register a complaint? What information should be included, and how are these concerns addressed?

WILL SCHELL: There are a couple of ways you can file a complaint. The easiest way is to go to the FCC’s complaint website. You can file a complaint online at fcc.gov. There will be a link for how to file a complaint right on the main page.

The basic information to include is what channel you were watching and what time of day. Include all the details about what you were watching, how you were trying to access the content, etc. These rules have time frames that they have to include. They also have some specifics, so including any information that you can about what you were trying to watch and when would be the most helpful.

Are TV shows required to display the audio description logo at the beginning? Do they have to be read aloud, either on regular or secondary audio programming (SAP) channels?

WILL SCHELL: I don’t believe there is any requirement that they display the logo. It is really difficult to find the schedule of when a show is going to be described. I understand that it can be very frustrating to believe that a show is going to be described, and then try to turn on the audio description and it’s not there. There are a number of websites that are keeping track of this, and the American Council for the Blind is doing a lot of work on trying to keep track of the schedules of various video descriptions.

Beyond the covered entities, there are a whole number of TV stations and programs that provide audio description voluntarily that are not part of our rules. A lot of those third-party websites, along with the American Council for the Blind site, often post a schedule of audio description.

Are there any requirements for simplicity for those with developmental disabilities?

WILL SCHELL: That’s an issue that has come up a number of times. There are no requirements for simplicity. It goes along with the idea that there are no quality standards.

It is an issue – just like many of these questions – that has come up in one of the FCC’s disability advisory committees. We have a group of people with disabilities and industry leaders who get together to discuss all of these issues, and make recommendations to the FCC.

Are there any regulations in the works to require online video players to allow for a secondary audio track? It’s really hard to publish description, because so few allow this.

WILL SCHELL: There are no regulations specific to online video players. There are requirements, however, that apps which come pre-downloaded or pre-included with a video playing device manufactured after December 20th, 2016, have to have the accessible user interface features for people who are blind or visually impaired. In addition, they must have the ability to easily switch to the secondary audio stream.

Movie theaters have to have a certain number of audio description headsets per size of the theater.

Are there any requirements for audio description in large gathering places, like arenas for sporting events or concerts?

WILL SCHELL: There are no requirements from the FCC. The Department of Justice has their movie requirements, in that movie theater requirements are dependent. Movie theaters have to have a certain number of audio description headsets per size of the theater.

There are also a number of theaters that do live audio description. At the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, they have a regular described show.


Click below to watch the full webinar!

Read the free report: 2017 State of Captioning.

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