FCC finalizes new emergency technology rules

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New FCC Emergency Message Rules

Under new rules finalized by the Federal Communications Commission, emergency video messages must be accessible to people with visual disabilities via tablets, smartphones, laptops and other similar devices.

“More and more Americans today watch programming – whether it be local news, a network sitcom, or public television events – on their laptops and smartphones in a service offered by their service provider,” FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler said in a news release. “The fact that the provider has moved delivery to a second screen should not eliminate the responsibility to provide emergency alerts.

To alert people with visual disabilities that messages are meant to convey emergency information, messages are preceded by three beeps. The new rule expands this system to other secondary sources.

The regulations, which were approved unanimously May 21, implement the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, which directed the FCC to take steps to improve emergency procedures for people with disabilities.

Also May 21, the FCC voted to extend the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution program, known as iCanConnect. The program, which started in 2012, provides $10 million per year in funding for telecommunication equipment to low-income individuals with disabilities.

“For Americans who are deaf-blind, connecting with family, friends, and fully participating in society can be a struggle,” Commissioner Mignor Clyburn said in a news release. “Tasks that are seemingly simple for many of us, such as sending emails or chatting on the phone, can be difficult or even impossible for deaf-blind individuals if they do not have access to adaptive equipment.

“Thankfully, that is changing, through enlightenment and technological advances, we are slowly but surely breaking down longstanding barriers to enable more seamless means to communicate and engage.”