Making Televised Emergency Information
Director, Media Access Group, WGBH
glad that I’m able to follow Mike Starling. Ever since we
got involved with captioning at WGBH, people have been
asking for captioned radio. Having just met Mike a few days
ago for the first time, I guess we're going to do it. I
guess we decided we're going to make captioned radio happen
with some project or another.
going to talk about emergency captioning and video
description. I am from the Media Access Group at WGBH in
Boston, the home of the Caption Center where captioning for
TV was first developed, and where Descriptive Video Service
(DVS), description of television for blind and
visually-impaired people, was also developed. We've been
very involved in a lot of the standards work over the years,
and of late have been very involved in a lot of the
emergency and access situations that have arisen.
colleague, Marcia Brooks, will be talking this afternoon
about our Access Alerts Project, looking at how all of the
different forms of alerts can reach the public and be made
accessible to people with disabilities. But for now we will
talk about emergency captioning and video description.
the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was passed and various
regulations about captioning and description were first
developed, the issue of emergencies was embedded right in
that law, and the FCC then developed subsequent regulations
I talk about those legal requirements, I should make a point
of showing a demonstration of video description. It's been
mentioned a number of times today.
captioning, which I don't bother to show anyone anymore
because everyone has seen it (that is, if you can see),
captioning is at least 10 years ahead of the game of video
description. So for those of you who have never experienced
video description, I am going to play you a short audio
clip, not of an entertainment program, but actually of a
news report. And I will not be showing any captions or
video, it will just be the audio, and unfortunately in
situations like this the interpreters and the CART reporters
have a little bit of a hard time, but here is description.
our view scans down the columned face of Charlestown high
school. Police wearing riot helmets block off the streets
at the entrance. A Boston police cruiser pulls up followed
by a yellow and black school bus escorted by police. A
group of police and school administrators meets the bus.
The door swings open and two African-American men step out.
One of the administrators talks to the men, then climbs on
to the bus. The riot police stand by with their hands on
news clip happens to be from the 1970s in Boston during the
busing crisis. But imagine if you were a parent sending
your kid to school, would you probably want to know what was
going on there as the reporter scanned the scene? That's
the kind of information that's rarely, if ever, made
available on television today. And you will find out in a
little bit what exactly is required, and maybe what can be
done in the future.
are the legal requirements for emergency captioning and
video description? Well, it is all very well summarized in
a fact sheet from the FCC entitled Accessibility Of
Emergency Video Programming To Persons With Hearing And
Visual Disabilities (http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/emergencyvideo.html).
This fact sheet, which is almost the entire regulation, is
available at the FCC's booth right out in the lobby here.
It's very succinct in terms of what is required for
captioning and description. I will give you a brief summary
of all, in general, emergency information must be provided
both aurally and in a visual form. These rules apply to
broadcasters, cable operators, and satellite services. And
those are the same people who are regulated by the
captioning requirements, which as of January 1, 2006, will
take full effect and 100% of all television will be required
to be captioned with certain exemptions -- particularly that
period of time when Mike Starling is working in his lab from
2:00 to 6:00 A.M. -- but there are other exemptions as well.
Emergency information is designed as information that is
intended to further the protection of life, health, safety,
or property. It's pretty straightforward. But even in this
case there had to be an FCC proceeding that helped clarify
this situation. It covers weather and every possible
hazardous weather condition, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods,
tidal waves, earthquakes, icing conditions, heavy snows,
widespread fires, warnings, and watches, and that's not an
inclusive list. It is just some examples.
includes community situations, discharge of toxic gases,
widespread power failures, explosions. And school closings
and school bus schedule changes results in such conditions.
Cheryl Heppner here was deeply involved in a situation that
she brought to the FCC a few years ago when there were
sniper attacks in the Washington area. At first it was
deemed that that was not an emergency situation.
Very quickly once you look at where schools were closed,
buses were rerouted, it was re-determined that that
certainly was an emergency situation that required
Critical information includes what areas will be determined
by the emergency, evacuation orders, evacuation routes,
shelters, how to shelter in place, how to secure your
personal property, road closures, and how to obtain relief
captioning, the audio portion of emergency programming must
be provided either using closed captioning or other methods
of visual presentation such as opened captioning, crawls, or
scrolls that appear on the screen, even handwriting on a
blackboard. That was a situation the FCC wanted to make
sure that people understood. When stations would say, "Oh,
we just don't have access to stenocaptioners," the answer
was, "You could have written the information on a
are putting information out on the screen or through audio,
any means in an emergency should be attempted. Of course,
complete verbatim realtime captioning is preferred, but
don't give up if that is not available at the moment. The
important point is that emergency information printed on the
screen should not block closed captioning, and closed
captioning should not block emergency information. And that
is readily doable as long as you think ahead of where you
are putting your information on the screen.
video description or access to visual information, whether a
regularly scheduled newscast, or a newscast that interrupts
regular programming in an emergency, the video portion must
be made accessible. Emergency information that is provided
in the video portion of programming that is not a regularly
scheduled newscast, or a newscast that interrupts regular
programming must be accompanied with a aural tone. This
means that if you are watching a program and a text crawl
along the bottom starts talking about a hurricane watch or a
tornado approaching your area -- but they're not actually
interrupting the program, they're just covering up the
bottom -- the only thing that a blind person can rely on at
that point is an aural tone. This is what the FCC rules
require. This is obviously somewhat problematic.
aural tone? During a normal TV program, there are lots of
aural tones that go off. Watching some shoot-'em-up movie,
how do you know there is an aural tone that tells you there
a disaster during an emergency? That aural tone is supposed
to tell you to seek your information elsewhere. Not all
that helpful either. It basically says to start flipping
your channels or turn on your radio. Clearly more
information is needed in an emergency that is not a newscast
or regularly scheduled program.
like in captioning, emergency information should not block
any video description, and any video description should not
block emergency information which means that the audio
channels shouldn't step on each other.
looking into the future, what might the trends be in
emergency program captioning or visual information and
description? Clearly there are certain things that are
needed. More steno training. We've heard certainly that
stenographers are in short supply. If you are in the Deaf
community you know interpreters are in short supply these
days, well, so are stenographers, and those are the people
who today are providing the largest amount of live
captioning on television throughout the country, and which
is required as a minimum on every TV station in the top 25
markets, and maybe even further in the near future.
Alternatives to steno training, of course, include things
like CART reporting, pretty much like you see today on that
screen which, in essence, is just like a stenographer doing
captioning on TV. The National Technical Institute for the
Deaf has developed something called C-Print. There are
other technologies called TypeWell, and these are all ways
of using your standard keyboard in order to type faster and
to get textual information out there.
training has been promoted in various Congressional
appropriations bills over the past few years, trying to get
more people in the stenographers' field, and get them on to
television. It's slow going. It's a very difficult
process, especially at the high accuracy level that you need
in an emergency. Imagine missing one syllable which says,
"Evacuate," and it was supposed to say, "Don't evacuate."
Those kinds of mistakes you don't want when you are
captioning live television. So a high degree of accuracy is
Obviously network services, both IP and wireless, are very
important. That is, being able to get translation of audio
into text from anywhere to anywhere. That's being done
today fairly regularly, where the audio can be coming from
anywhere in the world, and the text data can be sent
anywhere else in the world. Just like video relay, caption
translation can be done over phone lines, from anywhere to
the competitors in the captioning field are beginning to
talk about cooperative agreements, being able to help each
other out during emergencies. Obviously any court reporters
or stenographers who lived in New Orleans during the
hurricanes were not really able to get on the air. But
people in Kansas or Boston or Los Angeles certainly could
have sent their data in. Those kinds of cooperative
agreements will be very helpful for future disasters.
is even talk of such concepts as on-demand captioning,
putting information up online and having a network of
providers captioning it as it appears, shared resources.
People anywhere in the world who could rapidly get their
hands on audio and quickly caption it and put it back out,
particularly for web-based information.
course, speech recognition. People still to this day have
great hopes and dreams that automated speech recognition
will solve the problems of turning audio into text. And
while it's not ready at a high degree of accuracy the way
that stenographers can do today, it's certainly showing more
promise than ever before, and research is getting us to the
point where maybe the phrase that I used to always speak,
quoting Vint Cerf, the father of the Internet who said,
"Speech recognition that can do what stenographers do is
five years away, and will always be five years away."
Recently I asked him if he felt that was true, and he said
no. It will definitely happen sooner rather than later.
are the trends in emergency programming and description?
Not much. There isn't much live description yet -- though
you should know that WGBH has just launched the live
description of the "Frontline" documentary program, which is
described live or very close to live. We've described the
past five presidential inaugurals through the PBS system.
So live description is doable. It's just not used that much
description, as you probably know, is not required by the
FCC. The FCC did attempt to put some regulations in place
which did exist for a number of months in 2002. But those
regulations were struck down by a federal court and so at
this point any description that you see on television for
news emergencies or drama and entertainment is purely
voluntary, and there's just simply not enough of it.
that reason, many members of the blind community have gotten
together to lobby for legislation that's been introduced in
both the House and the Senate. In the Senate it's called
S900: The Television Information Enhancement for the
Visually Impaired Act, or the TiVi Act. It would reinstate
the video description rules which, at the time that they
were overturned, were only four hours a week per network
anyway. But it would add some very interesting other
requirements. The TiVi Act as written in the Senate version
says that the FCC will consider whether it is economically
and technically feasible and consistent with the public
interest to include accessible information in its video
description rules. Accessible information is defined as
written information displayed on television screens during
regular programming, hazardous warnings, and other emergency
information, local and national news bulletins, and any
other information that the Commission deems appropriate.
means for the first time the Commission would be required to
start looking at making on-screen information accessible.
And – whether the bill passes or not -- I am very pleased to
announce today that NIDRR has awarded WGBH a grant called
Access to On-Screen Text. With this project, that just
started a month ago, we're going to develop technology that
will turn the text that's generally printed on screen
(emergency information, identifications of who is speaking,
800 numbers for example) into synthesized speech, and then
fed most likely to the SAP channel, or radio reading
services, or to the web. We're just beginning. It's a
three-year project, but it has great promise and we have two
TV stations ready to help us out with this. So that we're
looking forward to.
mentioned live video description which is really just
beginning. And another very important issue that Janina
Sajka and Mike Starling have talked about is accessible user
interfaces. All of these technologies can be very exciting
and wonderful, but if you can't find the on/off button, it's
not usable if you are visually impaired. While none of the
regulations or rules presently call for that, the technology
research is charging forward on accessible user interfaces.
And that's obviously for radios, TVs, phones, and other
Finally, what can be done, and what is being done to improve
the availability of captioning and description during
emergencies? More enforcement for one. I have not yet
heard of any complaints being filed with the FCC about
problems with access for blind people during an emergency.
There may have been some, but I haven't seen any. I'm
seeing our friends from the FCC shaking their heads no.
Well, if there is a blind person in the audience who has
been caught in a disaster emergency situation, the FCC is
awaiting your complaint.
Certainly these things have been filed in the captioning
realm, and the FCC has been very proactive with a number of
Notices of Apparent Liability For Forfeiture, which means
large fines to TV stations in this country that fail in
their captioning responsibilities. Anywhere from $8,000 to
$25,000 fines have been assessed against TV stations in
California during wildfires, in Florida during hurricanes,
and in D.C. during a tornado watch. So the captioning
complaints have been effective, but on the visual access
side they have not been filed yet.
Certainly the FCC requirements for access for blind people
really do need to be improved. This aural tone is really
not going to do it in terms of alerting a blind person that
something is going on, and they need to take action. We're
going to be working with newsroom vendors and industry
associations, the Radio and Television News Directors
Association, the National Association Of Broadcasters, and
the National Cable Television Association. We'll help
inform them, educate them about their access requirements,
the technologies that they can be using, and how they can
improve their service to people with disabilities.
Definitely more research and development is needed on speech
recognition, and we're pursuing that but every high-tech
company in the world trying to make the best speech
recognition systems, both speech input and speech output.
Those advances are happening. As I said, outreach and
training are needed, particularly for video description. TV
stations and broadcasters really do need to understand that
they should not say, "Call the number on your screen if you
really do need to be educated as to that, and I can assure
you that they don't know that "call the number on your
screen" just doesn't work for the blind person.
any other future developments, see Mike Starling at NPR
excited about HD radio. We know that there's a few years to
go before that can be accomplished. We know also issues of
battery-power and power consumption issues need to be taken
care of. But we're very excited to be working on captioned
radio and digital radio for blind folks as well.
Poehlman, Maryland Technical Assistance Program. Larry,
this is something that I said at every FCC gathering that I
attended because it's so fascinating. A couple of years ago
we were sitting and watching nighttime programming on
Comcast. We heard this voice say, "Tune to channel 8. Tune
to channel 8" along with a beep. So we tuned to channel 8,
and it said, "Now it's time for the sports." Okay. So why
did do I that? So I flipped back to the station I was
watching. And a little while later, "Turn to channel 8.
Turn to channel 8. Beep" I flipped it over to channel 8
again. "And now, ladies and gentlemen, it's time for the
golf roundup." Wait a minute. What's going On here? I
thought nothing of this. A few days later I hear, "Tune to
channel 8. Tune to channel 8." So I said what if I don't?
Well, I tuned to channel 8 and still the same old thing.
Why are you telling me to do that when there is nothing for
me to do? So they got it halfway. Maybe they were testing
us to see if we would actually do it. I just thought I
would tell that you little story.
Well, it sounds like they were attempting to meet a
requirement there, or test out the idea of redirecting your
attention. We'll have to look into that because if you did
tune to channel 8 and there was an emergency that was
wonderfully effective situation. But if it was a golf
manufacturer trying to sell you golf clubs, that wasn't so
great. But that's the way that it should work if there was
really a problem.
Audience member: Larry, is there perhaps a problem when
they say, you know "Call the number on the bottom of your
screen," the reason being it's one broadcast, but different
numbers added to the screen so the person making the
announcements has no idea what the number is for each of the
local places. Now, obviously a local station ought to talk
over the top and add the number and also patch in some
audio. The speaker could have a moment of silence and say,
“which is,” and then stop, and then the local station could
flash the number and read it. But I was wondering if that
was the same kind of thing that might have been happening
with the channel 8 just now in that some place in the United
States channel 8 was the proper place to go, but that it was
being fed out someplace.
Poelman: It was a local feed that was giving us the
instruction to tune to channel 8. “Tune to channel 8” was
coming from a local feed.
These all need to be taken into account, and whether the
synthesized speech which will grab the local data would
work, or whether that's coming from a national source, that
all needs to be discovered. Yeah, that could be an issue.
But these are mostly local situations are talking about and
those are the easier situations to deal with.
Audience member: The number on the bottom of your screen is
something that the screen reading software is attempting to
Audience member: Hi. My name is Michelle. I wanted to ask
you a question. As a Deaf consumer who watches captioning,
and you obviously all work with the FCC, there are sometimes
cases where I would like to watch weather-related events on
cable, like the National Weather Service, and I know that
2:00 A.M. to 5:00 or 6:00 A.M. they're not providing that
service. I understand that. But the reason that I am
watching is because there is some disaster imminent and that
will have a huge impact, and we need to have that
information. So not having that kind of information
captioned, why can't special arrangements be made in those
off hours for that kind of situation? And then another part
of my question is also, I'm an east coast person. 2:00 A.M.
to 6:00 A.M. I am generally asleep. But when I go to
Seattle they shut off at 11:00 P.M. So that doesn't benefit
then folks on the West Coast having those off hours. How
can that be managed?
The 2:00 A.M. to 6:00 A.M. exemption is at local time. So
it's 2:00 to 6:00 in local time in Seattle, or 2:00 to 6:00
local time in D.C. So it's not the same time nationally.
But the emergency requirements are not exempt from 2:00 to
6:00. They apply across the board. So if there are alerts
or warnings happening at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, those
need to be made accessible. So that's not judged by an
exemption of 2:00 to 6:00 A.M.
Audience member: Maybe I wasn't clear. You are right. I
understand that. But the National Weather Service sometimes
will say, you know, here is a hurricane, and you won't
believe it, I am blowing away. None of that stuff gets
captioned when it's going on at those hours (2-6). And
that's still important information even though it's not in
my local area. I as a consumer want to be able to see
what's going on in the other areas.
would recommend that file comments in a proceeding that is
right before the Commission right now. Comments are due by
November 10th, so you've got eight days. And you
should make that comment that that restriction is not
applicable to you, and you think that 2:00 A.M. to 6:00 A.M.
exemption should be overturned. These are the kinds of
things that the FCC is gathering right now and you have your
opportunity to comment. It's very easy to do. You just
send an e-mail. No fancy filing. Just say timing is no
longer a relevant issue, and you would like to see it
Presently it is in the rules, but you should apply to get it
Audience member. Thank you.
Back to home page