FCC "Equal Access" Regulations and Their Positive Impact
By Joanna Scavo
Tommy is 10 years old. He looks like any other boy on the school playground. He likes to play the drums and enjoys walking his dog, Sam. Tommy used to like other hobbies like soccer and painting, but now he finds them too frustrating—he lost his vision last year when he was only 9 years old. He miraculously recovered from all the injuries he received in a car accident, except he no longer is able to see the world around him. Tommy has had a really rough year since that accident, but he is staying strong with the support of his family. He is learning to live like he used to—daily activities that were a breeze like tying his shoes or picking out an outfit to wear, now pose a challenge. One thing that has helped Tommy feel like he is living in the same world is he can still enjoy his favorite TV programs! Almost all kids nowadays look forward to their favorite cartoon after dinner—and Mom and Dad enjoy it too, as it can afford them just a little time of peace and quiet at the end of a rambunctious day.
You may wonder how Tommy is able to enjoy his favorite television shows without his eyesight. Well, it is through a wonderful service called "video description," also known as "audio description." Basically video description is an additional audio track that describes the key elements on the video. The process takes a very trained and experienced audio describer. This described audio track does not interfere with the main dialogue as it is precisely timed to flow with natural pauses of the original audio.
Tommy and others who are blind or visually impaired thank the FCC for their new video description mandates that enforce more programming to contain video description.
Effective as of July 1, 2012, the FCC rules require local TV station affiliates of major TV networks in the top 25 TV markets to provide 50 hours per calendar quarter (about 4 hours per week) of video-described prime time and/or children's programming. Beginning July 1, 2015, the mandates tighten up, but there is still a long way to go before video description is at 100% for all programming. For more specific information on the FCC mandates for video description, please see their website:
Like Tommy, Larisa is also affected by new FCC mandates. Larisa is a star volleyball player for her high school varsity volleyball team. She hopes to get a scholarship to Cal State Poly and continue on to play college volleyball. She is 17 years old. She's a pretty good student too—excelling in science and math. Larisa has a boyfriend named Jeff. She is completely deaf. She has been deaf since she was born, but her parents have always encouraged her to not let her lack of hearing get in the way of her goals and dreams. Since 2006, Larisa immediately noticed a difference in access to TV programming when the FCC made closed captioning 100% mandatory for all programming. Finally she could join in with friends and classmates when they were going over last night's episode of Gossip Girl. Over these past six years, she still wished she could be like her friends and be more active online. Well, one of her dreams came true now that the FCC has buckled down on captioning of online content.
By now, most people know what closed captioning is, but in case you don't, it is simply the text of the dialogue of a video displayed on the screen that can be turned on or off. It is not an automatic process and takes a skilled caption editor to create them.
The FCC's Internet (IP) video mandates regarding captioning were instated on September 30, 2012. So for programming that is prerecorded and broadcast on TV with closed captions and then that same video is repurposed for the Internet—for example, the TV station's website, Hulu, and YouTube, among others—these videos are required by the FCC to provide captioning. Unfortunately for live or near-live broadcasts or for content where the videos are edited from TV to Web, these videos do not require closed captioning until next year.
To learn more about the CC requirements for the Web, see:
The FCC order addressing IP closed captioning is available at:
A small entity compliance guide pertaining to the order is available at:
It's Access, Not a Burden
Often, program producers and TV stations look at FCC mandates as a burden to their load, but when you think of cases like Tommy and Larisa, these mandates are nothing more than trying to provide equal access to people of all abilities. There are millions of "Tommys" and "Larisas" who thank the FCC and all the compliant producers and networks for working together to make the world of media more accessible.
Remember that the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) offers online guidelines for creation of both description and captioning (http://www.dcmp.org/keystoaccess/). Service providers, agencies, schools, and others visit these guidelines a few thousand times a month! Most recently it was announced that Netflix will be using the DCMP guidelines for captioning their online video content. Call on the DCMP for advice and assistance as you plan and prepare your access.
About the Author
Joanna is the Director of Aberdeen's AberLingo, language services department. Apart from working in translation, Joanna has been involved in Aberdeen's arena of closed captioning for the past 7 years—she started as a caption editor, and then moved onto quality control and training. An advocate for access for all, Joanna strives to spread the word about the importance of both captioning and description of programming across all mediums. Aberdeen Broadcast Services offers closed captioning services, language services, and digital file delivery services and can be reached at (800) 688-6621.