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Federal Communications Commission
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This is an unofficial announcement of Commission action. Release of the full text of a Commission order constitutes official action. See MCI v. FCC. 515 F 2d 385 (D.C. Circ 1974).

April 13, 2000


(MM Docket No. 95-176)

Today, the FCC addressed an area of critical concern to persons with hearing disabilities.

Recently, I heard a story about Hurricane Floyd and a woman named Sharon McLawhorn.

Ms. McLawhorn, who is deaf, was watching TV one night, and the local broadcasters were warning of flooding in the area. But the local broadcasters did not caption that information, and Ms. McLawhorn went to bed not knowing that the floodwaters were coming, not knowing that she should be seeking higher ground.

She woke up when the water was almost as high as her bed. She sought refuge on top of her stove, but the water kept rising. She left her home by the only means available to her, which was to swim, first to the rooftop of a nearby trailer, and then to the roof of another trailer. In all, she spent over 24 hours out in the elements, cold and wet, with the flood currents rushing by her, before finally she was rescued by a helicopter.

All because the flood warnings weren't captioned or otherwise made available to her, and she didn't know what she needed to know to save her life.

We have received numerous comments and letters with similar stories from people with hearing disabilities whose lives have been endangered for want of information.

I know that the vast majority of broadcasters, cable operators, and other distributors are committed to serving the needs of their communities, and many already format emergency information to ensure that all viewers, including those with disabilities, have access to that information.

But this is not an area where we can make exceptions or tolerate less than perfection, because lives hang in the balance.

I know that there are costs involved in providing closed captions, and that's why in this Order we give broadcasters and others a lot of options in deciding how to convey emergency information to people with hearing disabilities. It can be closed captioning, crawls, or scrolls. Most broadcasters and other distributors can make the required disclosures with equipment they already have.

But it is essential that emergency information be provided in some means, and that's what this order accomplishes.

I think you all know that one of my major priorities as chairman has been to ensure that persons with disabilities are able both to realize all of the benefits of modern communications technology, and to contribute to society through their use of that technology.

Because when some segment of our society is deprived of the ability to participate fully in society - - by reason of disability or race or gender or any other factor - - we all pay the price.

So I am quite pleased about today's action which will benefit those who have hearing disabilities. As with all of the FCC's accessibility items, however, this is good not just for those with disabilities. It's good for all of us.