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NPR Shows Captioned Radio at White House

Deaf passengers could ‘experience’ radio

NPR Labs demonstrated its prototype car dashboard featuring a captioned-radio display for government officials Monday, first at the White House, then at the Commerce Department.

The demos were part of events marking the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The display is a dual-view screen. The driver’s view shows GPS navigational maps while the passenger’s view shows real-time text of the audio being broadcast over the radio. As Radio World has reported, for safety reasons the driver cannot see the passenger’s screen view.

The technology takes advantage of digital radio transmissions to send a closed-captioned transcript of a live broadcast to the screen on a specially built receiver.

At the White House, the NPR Labs team showed government officials (no POTUS) as well as representatives from groups representing disability communities its accessible technology; they also took part in a technology expo set up by the Commerce Department and the Federal Communications Commission.

At Commerce, they demoed the dashboard as well as one of NPR Labs’ technologies for the blind and visually impaired. Its Personalized Audio Information Service (PDF) allows blind and low-vision listeners of radio reading services to choose radio programming by topic for on-demand listening. The technology uses XML tags in program information that can be transmitted in the comment title field of an HD Radio channel. The tags can also tell HD receivers to alert listeners to emergency messages, such as tornado or hurricane warnings.

The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research and the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program provide funds for NPR Labs’ accessibility projects.

NPR Labs’ accessible radio development focuses on services for unserved and underserved audiences, including the hearing impaired. One in every 10 Americans — 36 million people — has hearing loss, and this number is expected to double by the year 2030 as we age, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America.

NPR Labs conducted the first live captioned radio broadcast on election night 2008, when NPR’s election coverage was simulcast in captioned-radio format. It worked with the International Center for Accessible Radio Technology at Maryland’s Towson University, Boston’s WGBH Media Access Group and Harris Broadcast to provide captioning coverage for five local Public Radio Satellite System stations.

Pete Loewenstein, VP of NPR Distribution, which oversees NPR Labs, said that the Personalized Audio Information Service, captioned radio and other initiatives are intended to help make sure anyone who wants public radio programming and other information can get it conveniently.