TV Underserves Disabled, Bush Told


A government advisory board charged with safeguarding the interests of disabled people said White House homeland-security initiatives should include requiring TV programmers to do more to ensure that disabled persons have access to emergency information during terrorist attacks and other disasters.

"All too often in emergency situations the legitimate concerns of people with disabilities are overlooked or swept aside," wrote Lex Frieden, chairperson of the National Council on Disability, in a letter to President Bush Friday. The group's recommendations about broadcasting were included in a comprehensive report and wide-ranging request for improvements in the government's emergency preparations for the disabled.

NCD called for the FCC to better enforce requirements that stations, cable operators and DBS providers make emergency information available to people with hearing and vision disabilities. NCD was designated by the State Department in 1995 to be the U.S. government's official contact point on disability issues.

Among the TV industry's shortcomings, NCD said, is that news crawls frequently block visibility of closed captioning, thus robbing those with hearing difficulties of the often more comprehensive voiced information. For instance, NCD noted that deaf people experienced "heightened anxiety and confusion" during the 2001 terrorist attacks because of the lack of captioning on broadcast systems. Similar problems on California TV stations kept many from knowing that their neighborhoods were threatened by the wildfires of 2003.

Stations also narrowly interpret rules requiring them to closed caption emergency information.

Consequently, emergency closed captioning often is limited to severe weather alerts--left out are airport closings, tightened security requirements on transportation routes, and other important news, they said.

Another problem, NCD said, is that 13-inch and smaller sets are exempt from close captioning circuitry requirements. That's a problem because those small, portable sets are the very models most people rely on when they must seek shelter during emergencies.