This spring, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) moved the needle forward on several large communications issues that impact access by people with disabilities. In April, the FCC Order concerning the Lifeline and Linkup programs [WC Docket No.11-42] took a variety of actions to create an affordable Lifeline broadband program. The Order discusses the minimum service standards for Lifeline Services, asserting that functional Internet access is essential to allow consumers to fully participate in society. The FCC also approved a real-time text proposal to ensure that people with disabilities who rely on text messaging to communicate will have accessible and effective telephone access. In anticipation of the transition from legacy telephone technology like TTY, to new, IP-based solutions, AT&T submitted an update on the status of their real-time-text (“RTT”) development efforts.
In March, the FCC sought to expand the video description rules to ensure access of video described programming to people that are blind or have low vision. Video description is the addition of audio descriptions of key visual elements of onscreen action during pauses in dialogue. Among other things, the NPRM [16-37] proposes an increase in the amount of video described programming from 50 hours per calendar quarter to 87.5 hours.
In Wireless RERC news, On April 27, 2016, Salimah LaForce and Christina Touzet presented a poster titled, Emergency Alert System (EAS) vs. Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), at the Disaster Response and Mitigation Forum. The research presented the background and results of research activities that examined the effectiveness of EAS and WEA to provide alerts to people with disabilities. Ed Price demonstrated the Wireless RERC's prototype of a WEA Video Platform that includes IPAWS approved symbology and presents the WEA message content as an American Sign Language (ASL) video. The Wireless RERC also hosted an Emergency Lifelines Workshop & Tabletop which included 44 individuals representing local, state, federal and academic leaders who play a role in emergency communications. This one day workshop heightened awareness about the need for accessible emergency communications and feasible approaches to ensure timely lifesaving information from the public safety officials is sent to people with disabilities.
The Wireless RERC, in partnership with AT&T Corporate Accessibility Technology Office are conducting workshops for people with disabilities, caregivers, and professionals on how to use accessibility features found on smartphones and tablets. There are seven upcoming workshops in Washington, D.C., Dallas, TX; Chicago, IL; Boston, MA; and Atlanta, GA. Wireless Independence Now! Workshops are free of charge, open to the public, and are not marketing or sales events.