Visually Impaired Get Audio Emergency Alerts

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Three beeps will precede emergency messages shown on TV screens and the like, alerting those who cannot see it to switch to an audio channel and listen, the FCC announced.
     The Federal Communications Commission Thursday announced it had adopted a rule that would allow people with visual impairments to access emergency messages through a second audio stream on tablets, laptops and smartphones.
     In 2010, Congress passed the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), which aims to ensure that people with disabilities have access to new technologies.
     Among other things, the law requires companies that display emergency information on a screen to provide a secondary audio programming channel for people who are blind or have visual impairments.
     The new FCC rule implements CVAA provisions that require technology allowing quick access to emergency information, without using vision.
     When a screen on a tablet, smartphone, laptop, television or other device shows an emergency message, it will be preceded by three tones, and the message can be heard by switching to a second channel.
     The rule also requires equipment such as set-top boxes to have an easy-to-use device to switch to the secondary audio stream in the event of an emergency.
     In a statement, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler stressed the importance of access to emergency information, such as in instances of natural disasters, without the use of vision.
     Wheeler referenced a blind woman in Pittsfield, Mass. whose roof was blown off during Hurricane Irene because she couldn’t see the emergency messages on her TV screen.
     The FCC is seeking comments on other issues related to the rule, including how it should prioritize emergency messages, and if school closing schedules should continue to be available on the secondary streams.
     This week the FCC also voted to make its pilot program “iCanConnect” permanent. That program provides people with hearing and visual impairments with equipment to access the internet and other technologies.
     The program, which was started in 2012, was set to expire in June, but the commission voted to permanently extend it due to its successes.

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