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New FCC Rule on Accessible Navigation Devices

FCC Issues Video Programming Rule Requiring Navigation Devices be Accessible to Blind, Deaf

New rule covers devices used for over-the-top streaming to televisions, including game consoles and set-top boxes, as well as tablets and other mobile devices

By J.J. Smith, 11/1/2013

The U.S. government has issued a rule requiring video equipment manufacturers—including the makers of devices used for streaming—and the producers of connected software ensure that the video-programming navigation devices in those products are “more easily” accessed by individuals who are blind or visually impaired, or who are deaf or hard of hearing.

On Oct. 31, the Federal Communications Commission issued a “report and order and further notice of proposed rulemaking” on “Accessibility of User Interfaces and Video Programming Guides and Menus” and “Access Emergency Information and Apparatus Requirements for Emergency Information and Video Description.”

The regulations listed in the document cover video “navigation devices” such as “converter boxes, interactive communications equipment, and other equipment used by consumers to access multi-channel video programming and other services offered over multi-channel video programming systems,” according to the document.

The FCC says such navigation devices includes devices that have a built-in capability to use a conditional access mechanism in order to access video programming and other services using a multi-channel video programming device (MVPD), the document says. Those devices include televisions, computers, and mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones that do not have pre-installed MVPD applications and that have removable media players.

Among those impacted by the regulation include the makers of video equipment containing navigation devices that are sold to the general public, and software manufacturers who produce programs that are installed into those navigation devices and that display on-screen text menus and guides, the document says.

The producers of those items have a three-year deadline to comply, but a specific deadline date is not included in the document. However, while the entities governed by the rule have three years to comply, they must also provide accessible navigation devices to requesting blind or visually impaired individuals “within a reasonable time,” the document says. The FCC defines a reasonable time as the period it takes such an entity to generally provide navigation devices to other consumers, according to the report and order.

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