With One Email, Tell Them and the FCC What You Think!
***"This is not a test; this is an actual emergency"***
When we all celebrated the enactment of the historic Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) almost three years ago, we were promised by our bipartisan champions on Capitol Hill, by the U.S. Congress, and the President of the United States, that one day, things would be significantly different. We were promised that the experience of people with vision loss in terms of our/their independence and full participation in American life through the full and fair use of today's most ubiquitous technologies would be forever changed.
We were thrilled to know that there would be much more video description available on TV, and indeed today there is. We were gratified to know that the manufacturers and service providers of some of the most commonly used communications technologies, such as electronic messaging and mobile phone web browsing, would no longer be able to ignore the needs of people who are blind or visually impaired. And we were hopeful that emergency alerts would finally be meaningful for our community, and it looks like they will be.
But we were also promised, and the new law requires, that TVs and TV-like equipment would need to be fully accessible to us. Now, in what is essentially the proverbial eleventh hour in the series of federal regulatory proceedings implementing the CVAA, the seemingly shameless consumer electronics lobby is demanding, with implied threats to go to court if they don't get their way, to strip the CVAA of its TV accessibility obligations and to violate the vision of a more accessible technology society that the CVAA represents.
So what do our tech lobbyist "friends" want?
Well, to answer this question, you need to know just a little bit about how the CVAA works. the CVAA says that your cable or satellite provider needs to make the equipment, the settop boxes and other such devices they give you to get their programming, accessible to you upon your request. While this is a good thing in comparison to how things have been, it is a compromise, and one that advocates reached with cable and similar providers as a condition for their willingness to allow the CVAA to become law. So, with regard to cable and satellite providers, they don't necessarily need to make all, or even most, of their equipment accessible as a matter of course; they merely have to accommodate your request for equipment you can use by providing you with something, even if it is not state-of-the-art.
In contrast, the CVAA requires that TVs and TV-like equipment, essentially anything that receives or plays back video programming of any kind, a ton of very cool technology out there, must be accessible by default; TVs and TV-like equipment will only be allowed to be inaccessible in a given instance if, and only if, fairly strict legal exceptions apply. This means that, unlike the cable and satellite sector which may regularly traffic in inaccessible equipment so long as they can ultimately give us something we can use upon our request, makers of TVs and TV-like equipment are charged with the clear responsibility to fundamentally change their behavior in a way that would exponentially increase the commercial retail availability of the accessible and most popular video-related consumer electronics on the market.
Ok, but what are those lobbyists up to?
With fork-tongued craftiness, the consumer electronics lobby is, even as we speak, assuring the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of industry's commitment to the needs of people with disabilities while, without blushing, propounding some of the most contorted legal reasoning that we have seen yet. They are using the full weight of their over-indulged influence to pressure the FCC into applying the inferior, more limited cable and satellite requirements to TVs and TV-like equipment.
If these "friends" of ours in the tech lobby get their way, rather than being able to shop for the digital TV or other video player you want and to have a robust array of choices just like everyone else, you will be forced to beg for an accessible product directly from the manufacturer. Rather than being able to enjoy the product you want to buy, you may even be expected to live with an inferior model, if you can get an accessible inferior model at all. Why are the tech lobbyists proposing this manifestly unfair arrangement? quite simply, their scheme would let their client companies off the hook for doing the right thing but leave consumers with little recourse.
What Can You Do?
Right now, the FCC is accepting comments from the public about how to implement the CVAA's TV and cable and satellite equipment requirements. AFB will help you voice your concern if you will take just a moment or two and write your thoughts in an email to us; AFB will file your comments for you. No, AFB's name will not be on your comments; your comments will be your own. We are simply offering to make the process as easy for you as possible because this issue is so uniquely critical.
The FCC's electronic comment filing system is not the easiest system to use, and any comments filed need to include certain technical legal references. Send an email to:
We will be glad to add the technical pro forma details for you and to submit your comments on your behalf for the official record.
So what exactly do you need to do?
All you need to do to help get things back on the right track is the following:
1: Write an email of whatever length you wish stating in polite but pointed fashion that begging for an accessible TV or similar equipment directly from a manufacturer is categorically unacceptable to you. Tell the FCC that it was the obvious intention of Congress, and it is the expectation of people who are blind or visually impaired across America, that accessible TVs and TV-like equipment will be readily and regularly available at commercial retail stores. Remind the FCC that the so-called "upon request" compromise that we reached with the cable and satellite industries neither involved the consumer electronics lobby at the time nor applies to their client companies now. Tell the FCC that people with vision loss will not stand for the consumer electronics lobby's proposed gutting of one of the most popular and important parts of the CVAA. Tell the FCC your own story of frustrations trying to simply adjust the volume or channels on your equipment, to simply play a show or movie, to find and activate your TV's video description controls, and to otherwise make full use of your TV or TV-like equipment.
2: At the conclusion of the text of your email, be absolutely certain to type your first and last name, followed by your regular mailing address. When we properly format and file your comments, the FCC needs to know that you are a real person, and your comments must be accompanied by more than your email address; they must include a regular identifying mailing address. It is up to you to decide which of the addresses that you might be associated with you want to use, a home, work, or some other appropriate address. So long as your email includes both your full name and a real related address, your comments will be accepted as part of the official record. Don't worry about anything else; we will be sure to fill out the rest of the required information, such as the docket number for this proceeding and similar formalities.
3: Between now and Monday, August 5, send your email to:
and simply begin the text of your email with the greeting, "To whom it may concern." A simple "Sincerely" or "Respectfully" at the conclusion of your message and before your full name and address will be fine.
Once we receive your email, we will properly format it and submit it to the FCC. The deadline for all comments is Wednesday, August 7. However, given that we hope and expect that we will receive a considerable number of comments, please send us your email comments no later than Monday, August 5 or as soon as you possibly can.
Thank you in advance for your advocacy, keep hope alive, and please share this call to action widely.
For further information, contact:
Mark Richert, Esq.
Director, Public Policy, AFB