One of the biggest bills for the deaf community was signed into law by President Obama today. It's called the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010. What does this law do?
For starters, it makes the Internet accessible to the deaf community by requiring television programming to be captioned on the Internet, a closed-caption button on television remotes, and hearing aid compatibility for smartphones.
This is a big f***ing deal for me, because for a long time before Hulu started captioning some of their television broadcasts, a lot of television episodes on the internet weren't captioned, and we were left out as a result as deaf viewers. And it's really hard to get to the menu to display closed-captioning on HDTVs, and in some cases, these closed captioning displays were intentionally disabled. It was very confusing for many of my friends in the deaf community. Hearing aid compatibility on smartphones is also a big deal. I can hear on my iPhone 4G, but a lot of noise leaks out, and it's not compatible with my telecoil on my cochlear implant.
This law, signed by President Obama, will help alleviate many of these issues. It took three years for this law to happen since I last postedabout it here on Dailykos. A lot of people in the deaf community, including myself, lobbied Congress to pass this law, and it was one of the few bills to pass on a bipartisan vote. Ironically enough, this new law will also help create jobs for those who work in the captioning and accessibility field. It's basically a two-fer for President Obama---he gets to sign a law that helps change the lives of millions of deaf, hard-of-hearing, and deaf/blind Americans, and creates jobs as well!
This new law will require any and every video that, first, is broadcast on television and, then, distributed via the Internet to include closed captioning. Additionally, devices that display video such as smart phones, mp3 players, and DVRs must be capable of closed captioning and displaying video description and emergency alerts. For the large and growing amount of video content that will be broadcast live in the years ahead — on television and over the Internet — there will be a growing need for, and appreciation of, stenographic court reporters who work as broadcast captioners. That is one reason the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that the court reporting profession will experience major growth in the years ahead, estimating that the profession will grow by 18 percent in the next eight years.
So it might be a very good time to take classes in court reporting as a way to find a new job in this growing field. You can begin your research here in how to be an awesome captionist for deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans!
Needless to say, I am very excited about the passage of this great law thanks to President Obama, but I do have to point out a major loophole that this law failed to address----captioning of online content for the Internet. Basically, companies that create web shows or videos for the Internet aren't required under this law to caption them. There's an effort underway by the great folks at Caption Action 2 to get these companies to caption their online content for the deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans. For more information on this loophole, you can see my earlier post on this subject at the National Association for the Deaf blog:
Internet media companies are not currently required by law to offer internet captioning, so what they are offering in terms of internet captioning is great, but it doesn’t yet expand full access for the deaf and hard of hearing to the internet because of the different technical standards when it comes to downloading codecs, processing captioning files, and making sure that the caption files are synced with the audio feeds. We need a single technical standard to help make it easier for internet media companies like Hulu.com process caption files for their online content. Content providers should also be required to keep caption files with all the media that are downloaded for Internet use so the caption files can be available and decoded by currently available application tools.
While we've won the fight on getting television content to be captioned on the Internet, the fight continues onward for internet media content to be captioned to provide equal accessibility for all viewers on the Internet. You can join the great effort by Caption Action 2 or support the work of the National Association of the Deaf by subscribing to their e-mail list to get the action updates to help improve accessibility for deaf people on the Internet.