Accessible Media through Internet Television

A couple of days ago Tareef and I met with Larry Goldberg and Brad Botkin from the Media Access Group at WGBH. The Media Access Group has been instrumental over the last 30 years by pushing technology and developing standards to ensure fair access to media.

In the early '70s The Caption Center was founded by WGBH and developed "Closed Captioning" - pioneering access to television for viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing. The Caption Center has evolved into a world class organization that provides caption services for broadcast and cable programs, feature films, videos and DVDs. Later in the 1990s the Media Access Group helped define Descriptive Video Service. DVS provides descriptive narration of key visual elements, which is then inserted within the natural pauses in dialog to help low-vision viewers to better understand the story. WGBH has been continuing their ground breaking work through the National Center for Accessible Media. NCAM is a research, development, and advocacy entity working to ensure that media access is still possible through alternative distribution channels (e.g. CD-ROMs, the Internet, etc) and new rich media formats (Flash, QT, WMV, etc).

Federal regulations have supported media accessibility through broadcast networks. However, the largely unregulated frontier of the Internet has no requirements to promote closed captioning, DVS or other related measures to deliver accessible media. Section 508 has had some positive impact on defining guidelines for ensuring fair access to online resources and information.

However, with broadband adoption and the drive toward rich media, society could take a sizable step back in ensuring fair access to media. Luckily, the Media Access group is still plugging away to remind us to include all people in the upcoming revolution in media distribution. They have made great strides working with companies like Apple, Macromedia, Microsoft and Real to ensure their media formats support media accessibility.

The four of us had a very lively conversation that sparked many new ideas. I'm particularly interested (warning buzzword approaching) in how the disabled community can take ownership of their own Long Tail. It is important to ensure that mainstream media is accessible to everyone, but perhaps with "infinite channel abundance," made available through Internet Television, video producers will find a new market. What perspective does a deaf film maker have?

As media distribution shifts to the Internet we need to ensure that we leverage enabling technologies and design patterns to better assist our fellow citizens. With any new medium this will take time and experimentation, but in the never ending pursuit of bettering our society we should make a commitment to constantly improving the opportunity for all.