by Marlaina Lieberg and Eric Bridges

The Information Access Committee, whose staff liaison is Eric Bridges, has been working diligently to maintain a strong voice with regard to the Twenty-first Century Telecommunications Video Accessibility Discussion Draft, and with the analog to digital TV (A to D TV) conversion slated to occur Feb. 17, 2009. Many of you who attended the ACB legislative seminar in February or who heard it on ACB Radio are familiar with some of the issues surrounding these topics. In this article, we will briefly describe each topic and what you can do to help. Analog to Digital TV

On Feb. 17, 2009, TV as we know it will change. If you subscribe to cable or satellite, you will not need to make any changes at this time. If you receive TV through the use of a TV antenna, either external or rabbit ears, you'll need to know a few important facts.

1. There are converter boxes you can buy for about $80, which will give your TV the capability to receive digital signals. These boxes have not been tested to ensure they will receive video description or for their usability by people who are blind. There is to date no information available in alternative formats regarding who manufactures the boxes or where to buy them. ACB has been a very strong and dissatisfied voice with regard to access provision for blind people in this entire process, and has continually appealed to National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA), the federal agency overseeing the development of this program. NTIA has chosen to take the road of least resistance with this program and the box manufacturers, only requiring what is currently federally mandated. Video description is a permitted feature, not a required feature, thus no testing of the boxes. Stay tuned; the IAC hopes to have a sample of these boxes at its meeting in Louisville.

2. NTIA has a coupon program wherein each household needing converter boxes may apply for up to two coupons. Each coupon will give you $40 off the cost of your converter box. Do not apply until you are ready to use your coupon; they expire in 90 days. Also, if you lose or misplace your coupon, you will not be issued another. For more information, call 1-888-388-2009; if you are able to access the web, visit Your coupon will come by mail; take care not to mistake it for an unsolicited credit card. Though NTIA assured us directly that they were interested in making the cards tactually identifiable, they have chosen not to do so.

3. If you use a TV radio, and it currently has no provisions for an external antenna, your TV radio will no longer receive TV signals as of Feb. 17, 2009.

Make your voice heard on this issue. Contact your members of Congress and tell them that the blind community has been left behind in the digital TV conversion process. You can also contact Tony Wilhelm at NTIA. He is responsible for the Coupon Converter Box Program; his phone number is (202) 482-6260 and his e-mail address is [email protected] NTIA and Congress need to know that we will no longer accept second-class status, and that we expect and demand the access other Americans will receive on Feb. 17, 2009. The 21st Century Communications & Video Accessibility Discussion Draft

Most laws dealing with accessibility do not cover Internet or digital media. The goal of the Coalition for Accessible Telecommunications (COAT) is to bring together individuals and organizations to eliminate this accessibility gap. COAT, of which ACB and several of its state affiliates are members, has worked with the House Committee on Energy and Commerce to develop this discussion draft. The committee released the draft just before Christmas, and now it's time for individual advocates to contact their representatives to request that the draft be dropped as a bill, and on the Senate side that a companion bill be introduced.

Here, in essence, is what the draft is requiring and, if introduced and passed, what this bill will do for the blind and visually impaired community:

1. Up to $10 million per year for specialized equipment for deaf-blind users.

2. Captioning decoder and description circuitry on all video devices.

3. Video description and emergency warnings.

4. Captioning and description on Internet video.

5. Accessible user interfaces for all video devices.

6. Accessible video programming and navigational guides.

I urge all ACB affiliates, both special-interest and state, along with members at large, to become involved with COAT. The time is now for our voices to be raised, voices that truly represent issues of importance to people who are blind. The following states have no COAT representation: Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming. Your involvement would bring a great deal to the COAT table. Please contact Eric Bridges at (202) 467-5081 or e-mail [email protected] for information on how your state or special-interest affiliate can become involved.

The IAC meets monthly, typically the second Thursday of each month. If you have issues you would like reviewed, contact Marlaina Lieberg at (206) 433-6565 or via e-mail, [email protected]

Act now to restore video description, accessible emergency warning procedures, and ensure access to America's most loved and perhaps most important medium, television. Make those calls and make your voice heard. One voice is important; many voices create change.

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