Tuesday, November 9, 2010

For Every Scholar, There Must Also Be the Occasional Frivolity: Heard Any Good Films?

By: Gary C. Norman, Esq. L.L.M. Candidate 2011

Entertainments, such as the television or the film theatre, are equally of interest to the blind, vision impaired or otherwise disabled individual, even including those matriculated at WCL. 

People with sensory-related disabilities receive audio description or video description by way of a secondary audio stream during television broadcasts or at the film theatre.  Video description is the audio description of key visual elements in programming, inserted into natural pauses in the audio, to make television programming accessible.  In a related fashion, close captioning, available for some twenty years, provides a textual representation of the dialogue communicated in the program.

The Biblical admonition – the Lord Gives on the one hand, and takes away on the other - might be modified, in the context of video description, to reflect that which litigation both gives and takes away.

By way of history, rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission in July 2000, required television stations in top-25 markets that are affiliated with ABC, CBS, NBC, or Fox to provide 50 hours of video description per calendar quarter, either during prime time or on children's programming.  Television broadcast stations affiliated or associated with any television network had to pass through video descriptions when the network provides them as long as the station has the technical capability to pass the descriptions through (subject to some technical exceptions). As sensible as these rules would appear, or appeared at the time, the so-called voice of blind or vision impaired persons, the National Federation of The Blind (NFB) joined the industry to oppose the rules, eventually winning in federal court at the appellate stage.

In October 2010, President Obama signed a piece of critical legislation (Public Law 111-260), the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. The Act passed because of bi-partisan support, including the leadership of Congressman Markey (D-Mass) and Congressman Barton (R-Tex). The dedicated multi-year advocacy campaign of the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology is a key reason for the Act's passage. Title II of the Act provides the requirements for video programming. Section 203 of the Act imposes, among other requirements, a minimum number of hours of audio described shows per week. The Act specifically authorizes the Federal Communications Commission to possess the regulatory authority to impose accessible video programming mandates.

Likewise, an issue essential potentially to life itself, emergency notifications that scroll across the bottom of the screen, may be made accessible because of the Act. Of interest to administrative law students, the enforcement provisions of the Act indicate if, once a complaint has been filed and received, and the Federal Communications Commission fails to undertake action on any of its responsibilities to act on a complaint as specified in the Act, the party who filed the complaint can seek a mandamus action in the United States Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia. 

In conclusion, my charge is attending a film.  For those who are vision impaired, as consequence of a settlement or settlements, audio described films are available at AMCs.

Post Script
The organ of the people of the NFB, the Braille Monitor, published an article--Audio Description: Accessory or Accessibility?--that provides a glimpse into the perspective of the NFB as to video description mandates. The article states, "We have never said that audio description is a bad thing as it currently stands. Our concern is that it be kept in perspective...It is our responsibility to do as much as we can for ourselves and not to grab everything." 

I am not sure of the policy stance of the NFB respecting the passage of the Act. The Act seemingly has provisions the NFB supports, accessible emergency notifications, and the Act has provisions the NFB urges is a secondary issue, superfluous to the blind public, video description. 

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