Denounces Federation's Failure to Support Access to Information for People Who Are Blind
Washington, DC - April 4, 2001 - Reaction was swift from the American Council of the Blind upon learning that the National Association of Broadcasters, The Cable Television Association, and the Motion Picture Association of America had initiated litigation to overturn a government requirement that the television industry make a portion of their programming accessible to visually impaired and blind people, through a secondary channel that can be turned on by viewers.
"After fifteen years of struggle simply to gain access to the same programming that all other Americans enjoy; we can only conclude that this assault on the rights of people who are blind and visually impaired by corporate entertainment has everything to do with their own greed and nothing to do with any principles of decency, " said Paul Edwards; President of the Blind council. Edwards continued, " As a group we have few financial resources, but our tens of thousands of members have the conviction that we matter enough as people to defend our rights to information from an industry engaged in selling its entertainment to the general public. We will fight this at every turn."
ACB Executive Director Charlie Crawford angrily added, "To add insult to injury, we understand that the industry has enlisted the aid of the National Federation of the Blind, as a related plaintiff in their suit. We can only view the Federation as a traitor to our community. We urge their members to exercise their rights as thinking citizens and people who wish to participate fully in their communities, by refusing to acquiesce to the will of their leadership, which appears to be more co-opted by industry than motivated to serve the needs of people who are blind."
Crawford urged members of the NFB to contact their leaders to express their disapproval of the organization's unwillingness to support the access to information which video descriptive services represent.
The battles began last year when the Federal Communications Commission considered the request of a coalition of groups, including people who are blind and visually impaired and their advocates, to require that programming on television be made accessible to people who cannot see what's happening on their television screens, through an inexpensive technology called video description. The technology allows for the creation of a secondary soundtrack, where a narrator describes visual elements of a program during the natural pauses that occur in dialog. In this way, a person who cannot perceive the visual elements of a program or performance can gain a genuine understanding of what is happening and fully enjoy the event. All this comes through the secondary audio channel that is already available on stereo television sets. Making the secondary soundtrack available will be even easier as digital television comes onto the scene. Both the industry and the National Federation of the Blind have argued that the television industry should not be compelled by the federal government to provide accessibility through video description. Others, including the American Council of the Blind, point out that the technology has been available since the early 1980s, but the industry has done next to nothing to make their programming accessible to people who are blind.
"Blind people are tired of waiting for access to entertainment and information that others in our society, including people who are deaf and hard of hearing, can take for granted," Crawford said. ACB President Edwards vowed to vigorously defend the rights of the blind and appealed to other people who are blind and visually impaired and people who care about doing what is right, to join in efforts to preserve the FCC requirement that network television make its programming accessible to everyone who wants to watch it.