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FCC Considers a 75% Increase in Audio Description Requirements

By: Aylin Dunham
audio description

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This week, the FCC is scheduled to meet regarding a proposed Audio Description requirements increase of 75%.

What is Audio Description? (also known as video description)

Audio Description (AD) provides a verbal description to the blind or visually impaired of relevant visual elements that appear in the video, but are not communicated through the video’s existing audio.

What Mandates Audio Description?

Title II of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), signed in 2010, set video description rules and authorized the expansion of those rules in the following 10+ years.

Increase in Audio Description Requirements

On July 13th, the FCC will consider an increase of audio description requirements from 50 to 87.5 hours per quarter, for broadcast and cable networks who are required to comply with the CVAA. If the increase is approved, it will go into effect January 1, 2018. The FCC states the reasoning for the increase at this time is “The benefits of additional description, while less easy to quantify than the relatively low costs of providing it, are nonetheless substantial.”

Currently, TV networks including ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, USA, TNT, TBS, History, and Disney Channel are required 50 hours of audio description per calendar quarter. The increase will bump that up to 87.5 hours per quarter, the maximum allowed by the CVAA. Even at the maximum, this amounts to an average of less than 1 hour a day of programming with AD accessible to the blind. To put this in perspective, each day, average seeing Americans watch 5 hours of TV and are able to choose from 264 channels with over 6000 hours of programming. With an estimated 7-21 million visually impaired Americans, there is a substantial audience that will benefit from this increase.

“Ideally, viewers who are blind or visually impaired would have the same range of options, including the same freedom to select and independently view and follow any of the programming for which they pay. Instead, many find that “the current amount of available audio-described content [is] significantly below demand” and indicate that they have difficulty finding programs with video description. – FCC Audio Description Expansion Report & Order

UC Berkeley Investigation

Last year, the Department of Justice concluded an investigation of UC Berkeley under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. They found that the universities public videos did not provide full and equal access to those with disabilities, as required by the ADA. Although the primary focus of the controversy was on the lack of captioning, audio description was also among the missing accommodations that the University is required to provide.

Following the investigation of UC Berkeley, other universities have begun ramp up their accessibility initiatives to include audio description. In March, Terrill Thompson presented at CSUN Assistive Technology Conference, offering advice to organizations with large quantities of video on the different methods and implementation of AD. This presentation proved that awareness of the need for audio description is on the rise.

How FCC AD Requirements Affect Universities

Universities are not regulated by the FCC, so this potential increase in requirements does not directly affect them. However, history shows us that changes in FCC regulations can have some influence the interpretations and enforcement of the ADA. Now is the time for universities to begin thinking of how to incorporate audio description into their workflow to prevent falling behind on their ability to comply with future regulations.