In what may be one of the last orders approved with Mignon Clyburn as interim FCC chair, the Commission has adopted rules aimed at making it easier for consumers who are hearing impaired or visually impaired to access programming on a wide range of devices. The order includes cable and satellite set-top boxes, TiVo s and other devices for video play back (TVs, computers, tablets, smartphones, etc). It’s the final milestone in the FCC’s implementation of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act on ’10.

The order was not immediately released, but it is said to give smaller operators some flexibility with meeting the so-called "talking guide" mandate in 3 years. MVPD operators with fewer than 400K subs will have an additional 2 years to comply (5 years total). Small systems with under 20K subs that are not owned by Comcast, DirecTV, DISH or Time Warner Cable also will have an additional 2 years to meet the deadline for audibly accessible on-screen text menus and to make navigation guides on devices available to blind or visually impaired customers.

Cable One had urged the FCC to build in more flexibility, given that the op would be considered too big for the exemptions. The MSO said that in its experience, even if the principal set-top makers can supply compliant talking guide boxes to their major customers (2mln+ subs) within the 3-year deadline, the devices may not be available in necessary quantities to small ops like Cable One for a considerable period of time. The FCC order also includes "outreach requirements to inform the public about the availability of accessibility options, and a procedure for complaints." The Commission also issued a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comment on areas where it said the current record is insufficient.

NCTA had lobbied the FCC to exclude MVPD-provided apps downloaded to tablets and other 3rd-party devices from the talking guide provision, saying it would be a stretch to apply the statute beyond menus and programming guides provided on navigation devices. It’s unclear where that stands. "I’m proud that, as a result of today’s action, 25 million Americans who are blind or visually impaired will be able to navigate menus on a range of devices that show video programming, and an additional 36 million deaf and hard of hearing Americans will be able to activate closed captions easily," Clyburn said in a statement Tues. "Once these rules take effect, people who are blind or visually impaired will be able to quickly find a news channel during an emergency or tune in to their favorite show as readily as sighted people."

ED NOTE: This story originally appeared in CableFAX Daily.

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