FCC proposes making TV menus accessible to blind

Federal regulators are unveiling draft rules to make cable and television menus accessible to the blind and visually impaired.

The proposal from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will require that users have an option have onscreen menus read out loud, helping the blind understand what's playing on different channels. Cable and satellite menus, as well as other devices, will have to comply with the new rule once it is finalized. 

"It's incredibly important for our ability to access entertainment content through the home theater experience," said Eric Bridges, the director of advocacy and governmental affairs with the American Council of the Blind.

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The new proposal requires that 11 "essential functions" of TV are accessible, including adjusting volume, obtaining program and channel information and various configuration settings.

The proposal is the FCC's last in a series of new rules to implement the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), a 2010 law. The agency had previously issued rules making cellphones' Internet browsers and emergency TV alerts accessible to blind people, among other measures. 

The law sailed through Congress as an attempt to update technology for the modern era, making sure that people with disabilities could take advantage of cellphones and digital tools just like everyone else.

"Generally we've been really pleased with how the FCC has viewed the implementation of the CVAA, and if this is done correctly, this will mean equal access to entertainment content on television," Bridges said.

The FCC is scheduled to publish the proposal in the Federal Register on Tuesday and is accepting comments for the next 50 days.

The agency has said it intends to finalize the rule by October.

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