Visual Descriptions Ordered


Washington-For 12 million Americans who have difficulty seeing, television may soon be as accessible as a book on tape.

The Federal Communications Commission adopted rules late last month requiring broadcasters and program distributors to provide video descriptions for roughly four hours of programming every week. The regulations require cable and satellite systems with 50,000 or more subscribers to transmit video descriptions by early 2002.

Narrated accounts of scenes and actions will be available through the secondary-audio-programming channel, allowing watchers with impaired vision to follow the video.

The National Cable Television Association had complained that visual descriptions would be costly and time-consuming. Vice president of program-network policy Jill Luckett estimated that the cost of upgrading equipment for visual descriptions would be between $100,000 and $200,000 per network. She cautioned that the estimates were vague.

The FCC also voted to require closed-captioning capabilities in digital-television receivers.

Closed-captioning puts dialogue text over the video to assist people with hearing impairments. Under the new rules, viewers will be able to choose captioning color, size, font and format.

TV manufacturers must provide closed-captioning capabilities in digital-television devices by July 1, 2002.

States News Service