[ Text | Word97 ]

fcclogo NEWS

Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20554
News media information 202 / 418-0500
Fax-On-Demand 202 / 418-2830
Internet: http://www.fcc.gov
TTY: 202/418-2555

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).

    November 18, 1999

Statement of FCC Chairman William Kennard
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Video Description

Last July, I attended a screening of the latest Star Wars movie along with many members of the Seattle disability community. It was a wonderful experience for me to see first hand the benefits of video description, and how much it means to persons who are blind or have low vision.

They showed the movie at a marvelous old theatre that Paul Allen has restored. Paul Allen not only gave this theatre a beautiful facelift, but he made it accessible to folks with disabilities.

Paul Allen's approach to designing that theatre is exactly the approach to design and engineering that all of us in the communications business must embrace. We cannot afford to let the issue of disabilities be simply an afterthought. We have a unique opportunity now, as industry pours billions of dollars into upgrading the communications infrastructure, to make sure that people with disabilities are not left behind. Now is the time. Accessibility of services and products for all Americans has got to be a design feature, not an add-on.

People with visual disabilities watch television in similar numbers and with similar frequency to the general population. Consider Eddie Timanus. He lives in Northern Virginia and you may have seen his name in the paper recently. Eddie lost his eyesight at the age of 2, but has tuned in to the game show Jeopardy! for years. When he recently appeared as the first blind contestant on the show, he won five straight victories and almost $70,000, and advanced to the Tournament of Champions a feat accomplished by only a half a dozen of the 400 contestants who appear on the show each year.

Eddie Timanus did not need video description to be a fan and a successful contestant on Jeopardy! But there are many programs that have visual elements not reflected in the audio that are key to understanding what is happening.

There are 54 million Americans with disabilities, and 8 to 12 million of these have visual disabilities and will directly benefit from video description.

And so we have a lot to gain here, and I urge the industry not to wait until our rulemaking process is complete. Less than 1% of video programming is described. And you have an audience, with purchasing power, who wants access to your programming. Make sure that you do all you can to describe your programming.

The framework in our action today is an important step to ensuring access to televised video programming. Let me say that I know all of the Commissioners here share a very deep and very real commitment to accessibility. All of us should feel proud that during our tenure as commissioners, we made sure that the voices of Americans with disabilities were heard, and listened to, at the FCC, and that we took meaningful actions to make a difference in the lives of millions of Americans with disabilities.

Today's item is another important step by the Commission.