Emergency Info Accessibility Requirements Waiver Extended


The FCC’s Media Bureau has granted an additional 18-month waiver of emergency information accessibility requirements, something that the NAB had petitioned for.

On April 5, the National Association of Broadcasters submitted a petition for an extension of the existing waiver of the requirement that television broadcasters aurally describe visual but non-textual emergency information, such as maps or other graphic displays.

Five days later, the Bureau issued a public notice seeking comment on the petition, which focuses on a regulatory requirement based on section 79.2(b)(2)(ii) of the Commission’s rules. This requires that emergency information provided visually during non-newscast video programming be made audibly accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired through the use of a secondary audio stream (the “Audible Crawl Rule”).

The Commission adopted those rules on April 8, 2013, with a compliance deadline of May 26, 2015. Waivers had extended that expiration date until today (5/26).

But, the NAB shared that despite its efforts to coordinate with entities potentially capable of developing a technical solution during the current waiver period, it has been unable to identify a workable solution based on existing technology.

What’s the key issue? The NAB explained that the software used to create non-textual graphics, such as dynamic radar maps, does not contain metadata text files that can be converted into text, and in turn, used to create aural descriptions.

Moreover, the NAB noted that once a solution is developed, it has yet to be determined how such solution could be integrated into the existing broadcast system.

Thus, the NAB wanted a two-year extension of the last waiver. The American Council of the Blind (ACB) and the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) do not, and expressed concerns about “the lack of proactive efforts being taken to procure or develop a solution to this known and longstanding issue.”

With evaluation of the waiver request, a decision was made.

“With the attachment of certain conditions, we find good cause to waive the requirement that broadcasters aurally describe visual but non-textual emergency information for an additional 18 month period ending November 26, 2024.”

While that’s not the full 24 months the NAB wanted, Media Bureau Chief Holly Saurer ruled, “While there is disagreement in the record over the extent of outreach conducted, the record demonstrates that a viable technical solution for automated descriptions of emergency information presented in graphic form does not currently exist.”

Key to the decision are certain conditions. 

“To better assist us in monitoring the continued need for a waiver and the broadcast industry’s efforts and progress in developing a technical solution, we require the NAB to submit quarterly status reports to the Media Bureau and the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau,” Saurer said.

These reports shall, at a minimum, include the following elements:

(1) Information detailing the extent to which broadcasters need to invoke the waiver. NAB may assess broadcasters’ continued need for the waiver, for example, by monitoring an appropriate sample size of broadcasters and determining the number or percentage of instances among this sample where a radar map or other graphic image used during the presentation of emergency information conveys critical details that are not provided in an accompanying crawl and transmitted aurally on a secondary audio programming stream.

(2) Description of NAB’s outreach to the disability community and its efforts, in consultation with the disability community, to develop standards or best practices to be used by broadcasters in ensuring that the critical details of non-textual images displaying emergency information are accurately provided to viewers who are blind or visually impaired and to train broadcasters on the use of such standards or best practices.

(3) Description of NAB’s efforts, in consultation with broadcast industry experts and relevant non-broadcast technical experts, to develop automated solutions for complying with the requirement to aurally describe visual, non-textual emergency information, such as solutions afforded by AI-based systems or the ongoing adoption of ATSC 3.0 in more television markets, and any progress made toward the development of such solutions.

(4) Description of training and best practices for broadcasters to offer effective communication of critical emergency information conveyed in graphic images in textual crawls and aural transmissions on secondary audio programming streams even if the critical emergency information is in a different form than the description of visual material, as well as tangible efforts by NAB to conduct or encourage such training and best practices for specific broadcasters.

(5) If at any time during the course of the waiver period, the industry, in consultation with the disability community, determines that there is a preferred and effective alternative to an automated technical solution, any subsequent reports should explain what steps are being or will be taken, using such alternative solution, to ensure that viewers who are blind or visually impaired will have access to the same critical details that are provided in a non-textual manner.