The second bill introduced by Sen. Harkin, the Air Carrier Access Amendment Act (Senate bill S.556), would amend the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) to require that U.S. air carriers offer captions and video descriptions for all visually displayed in-flight entertainment, and to provide alternatives to touch screen controls. Airlines would have 180 days after enactment to implement captioning and descriptions. The government would have 18 months after enactment to come up with standards for alternative touch screen controls; once those are published, the airlines would then 180 days to implement such controls.
The current state of accessibility of visual content on airplanes is spotty at best. The ACAA requires that in-flight safety messages be captioned. A small number of airlines, such as Continental, Qantas and Emirates, offer captioning voluntarily. DirecTV offers captions on their programming that’s available on airlines such as Delta and JetBlue, but movies offered by those airlines aren’t captioned. No airlines are currently offering video descriptions or alternatives to touch screen controls. Again, the bill would not require the implementation of specific captioning or description technologies.
NCAM, in addition to having developed technologies for providing captions and descriptions in theaters, has done research into making IFE systems accessible, so I asked their director, Larry Goldberg, about the likelihood of passage for these bills. Goldberg says that, while he has no special insight into whether the bills will pass, “in the past, legislation which supports the interests and needs of children and adults with disabilities often has bi–partisan support.” So, while it seems likely that these bills will get strong Congressional support, it remains to be seen how the theaters and airlines will react.
In any case, it’s a promising development, which I’ll be keeping an eye on.
Are you disabled? Have you had good or bad experiences trying to watch a movie in a theater or entertainment on a plane? Please share your experiences in the comments.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post described the CVAA as requiring descriptions for online videos; while the CVAA added a requirement for more video description on TV, it imposes no requirements for descriptions on online videos.
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