Video Programming Distributors Obligated to Make Emergency Information Accessible to Persons with Hearing Disabilities
Under a Federal Communications Commission rule adopted on April 14, 2000, video programming distributors are required to make emergency information that is provided in the audio portion of the programming accessible to persons with hearing disabilities through closed captioning or by using a method of visual presentation, such as open captioning, crawls, or scrolls that appear on the screen. The rule also provides that emergency information provided by means other than closed captioning should not block any closed captioning and any closed captioning provided should not block any emergency information provided by means other than closed captioning. The rule, which became effective on August 29, 2000, applies to emergency information primarily intended for distribution to an audience in the geographic area
in which the emergency is occurring. See Second Report and Order, In the Matter of Closed Captioning and Video Description of Video Programming, Implementation of Section 305 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Accessibility of Emergency Programming, MM Docket No. 95-176 (15 FCC Rcd 6615 (2000)); 47 C.F.R. § 79.2 (Accessibility of programming providing emergency information).
Since January 2001, the Federal Communications Commission has received a number of complaints from residents of California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas contending that video programming distributors have failed to make local emergency information accessible to deaf and hard of hearing viewers. Among other things, complainants have reported a failure to provide visual information about the direct path of hurricanes, storms, and other dangerous weather conditions, as well as precautions needed to respond to those conditions. Some consumers have also reported blocking of critical visual emergency information (e.g.,
emergency school closing information) by other information on the screen. These complaints generally allege that contacting programming distributors has resulted in little relief to complainants. Some programming distributors, upon receiving complaints, stated their erroneous belief that the only means of complying with the new access rule is to provide closed captions for emergency programming, and have argued that they do not have sufficient funds to caption all of their emergency programming. As noted above, closed captioning is only one way to comply with the emergency information rule.
Emergency broadcasts lacking visual displays deny persons with hearing disabilities access to vital information. It appears that some video programming distributors are unaware of the nature of their obligations under the Commission's emergency information rule. This Notice therefore reminds them of their obligation and that failure to comply with the rule may result in appropriate enforcement action.
A fact sheet, the closed captioning rule and a fact sheet summarizing the closed captioning rule are also available at the FCC Consumer Information Bureau's Web site, and the Cable Services Bureau's Web site.