September 2000 Issue  Volume 1  Number 5


Major Boost for Video Description

On Friday, July 21, 2000, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted rules requiring the top television broadcast and cable networks to provide video description to make television more accessible to persons with visual impairments. Video description involves the insertion into a television program of narrated descriptions of settings and actions that are not otherwise reflected in the dialogue. In a 3-2 vote, the commissioners ordered television broadcast stations affiliated with ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC to begin providing approximately four hours a week of described prime time or children's programming by June 2002. The rule applies to stations in the top 25 television markets. In addition, cable systems and satellite systems with 50,000 or more subscribers will be required to provide video description for the same amount and type of programming on each of the top five national nonbroadcast networks they carry. Stations in markets of any size will also be required to carry any video described programming they receive, as long as they have the technical capability to do so. Video description will not have to be provided if doing so would be an undue burden on the provider. Additional details about the requirements are expected later this year, when the complete text of the rules are published. For more information, contact the FCC's Disability Rights office at <>.

AOL Agrees To Become More Accessible

America Online (AOL) signed an agreement with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) to make the next software release, AOL 6.0, compatible with screen reader assistive technology so it is accessible to users who are blind or visually impaired. NFB had filed a suit against AOL late last year, charging that AOL's Internet service is inaccessible to blind people and violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. In response to the new agreement, NFB has withdrawn its complaint against AOL. The agreement can be accessed at: <>.


In June 2000, Freedom Scientific acquired the business operations and product lines of Arkenstone, Inc., a manufacturer of reading systems for people who are blind or visually impaired. Freedom Scientific was recently formed as the result of a merger between Henter-Joyce and Blazie Engineering. The Arkenstone engineering group, which includes Arkenstone's founder, Jim Fruchterman, will continue as a nonprofit entity in California. The new nonprofit group, named Benetech, plans to develop new adaptive technology products for people with disabilities. Fruchterman and the Benetech group have been engaged by Freedom Scientific to continue research and development work on the purchased software product lines, including future upgrades. For more information, contact: Freedom Scientific; phone: 760-602-5232; Web site address is: <>; E-mail address is:; Arkenstone Web site address is: <>; Henter-Joyce Web site address is: <>.

Synchronized Reading

In June 2000, Microsoft announced a licensing agreement with Labyrinten Data AB (a Swedish subsidiary company of the U.K.'s Dolphin Computer Access) and isSound. The agreement enables text-to-audio synchronization of eBooks created for Microsoft Reader using technology developed by Labyrinten Data AB and isSound, and gives publishers the option of including additional information in eBooks to accommodate synchronized audio narration. As part of the licensing agreement, isSound and Labyrinten will also create enhanced versions of the LpStudio/PLUS toolkit to support production of mixed media materials for Microsoft Reader. Text-to-audio synchronization in Microsoft Reader will not be included in the initial release, which is currently available, but will be included in a subsequent version. Contact: isSound Corporation; phone: 609-637-0099; E-mail address is:; Web site address is: <>; Labyrinten Data AB; phone: 011-46-515-821-75; E-mail address is:; Web site address is: <>; Microsoft; Web site address is: <>.

Internet Research

A report of the results of testing three Internet search engines for accessibility, "Access to information on the World Wide Web for blind and visually impaired people," can be found in Aslib Proceedings, Volume 51, Number 10, and is available online at <>. The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) and the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative have produced Websites That Work, a free video on accessible Web design, which can be obtained from RNIB. For more information, contact: Julie Howell, campaigns officer, Accessible Internet, RNIB: E-mail address is:; Web site address is: <>.

Talking ATMs

In June 2000, Bank of America announced the operation of the first 15 talking automated teller machines (ATM), of the 1,600 talking ATMs the bank will install in California. The first cities to receive the ATMs include: San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Berkeley, and Oakland. In conjunction with the California Council of the Blind, Bank of America made the decision in March 2000 to install talking ATMs at each ATM location in its national network. For more information, contact: Ann DeFabio, Bank of America; E-mail address is:; Web site address is: <>; Lainey Feingold, California Council of the Blind; E-mail address is:

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