Summary of New Rules on Televised Emergency Information
On April 8, 2013, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted rules to make
televised emergency information more accessible to individuals who are blind or visually
impaired, as required by the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act
of 2010 (CVAA).
Sometimes emergency information is provided visually during a regularly scheduled newscast,
or a newscast that interrupts regular programming. The FCC expects that broadcasters, cable and
satellite television service providers, and other multichannel video programming distributors will
aurally describe the emergency information in the main audio as part of their ordinary
Sometimes emergency information is provided visually during regular programming that is not a
newscast. For example, sometimes information about an emergency appears as text “crawling”
across the top or bottom of the television screen during regular programming. When this
happens, the emergency information that is provided visually is accompanied by an aural tone.
The aural tone alerts people that emergency information is being provided visually and people
with vision disabilities should find another source, such as a radio, for information about the
The new rules require emergency information that is provided visually during regular
programming that is not a newscast to be provided aurally on a “secondary audio” feature.
Broadcasters, cable and satellite television service providers, and other multichannel video
programming distributors must comply with the new rules by May 26, 2015. The Weather
Channel has an additional six months to comply, and DIRECTV has an additional one year to
comply with regard to emergency information it provides via The Weather Channel.
The FCC also adopted rules to ensure that certain equipment used to receive, play back, or record
television programs (such as televisions, set-top boxes, and digital video recorders) are able to
make the secondary audio feature available to convey televised emergency information.
Equipment manufacturers must comply with the new rules by May 26, 2015.
Secondary audio features are also used to provide video description, a service that makes
television programs more accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired. The
FCC’s “Video Description” consumer guide has information about secondary audio features and
video description requirements.