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NPR launches effort to make radio fully accessible

January 11, 2008 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Press Release

Source: Harris Corporation

NPR, Harris Corporation and Towson University Launch Global Effort To Make
Radio Accessible to Hearing and Sight Impaired

Tuesday January 8, 12:00 pm ET

First Over-The-Air Transmission From Special CES Station

LAS VEGAS, Jan. 8 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — (LVCC S227) — NPR, Harris
Corporation and Towson University today announced a new initiative to make
radio more accessible to the hundreds of millions of hearing and visually
impaired people around the world.
At a press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the
three organizations announced the global accessible radio technology
initiative
and provided the first live demonstration of the accessible radio
technology. The group also announced a new research center for developing
future technologies
on the campus of Towson University near Baltimore, MD. Additional plans call
for the establishment of an international consortium of equipment
manufacturers, broadcasters and other organizations to help foster broad
adoption of the initiative.
The initiative will be spearheaded by the three founding organizations and
will leverage cutting-edge HD Radio(TM) technology to enable
hearing-impaired people to "see" live radio content on specially equipped
receivers by applying television closed-captioning processes to radio
broadcasts. The technology also will provide audio cues and voice prompts,
as well as advanced radio reading services, for those visually impaired and
blind.
"Digital radio technology makes it possible — for the first time — to
serve the sensory impaired," says Mike Starling, vice president and chief
technology officer of NPR. "Beyond developing the technology, this
initiative will ensure the accessibility of these radio services at minimal
costs."
During the press conference, the organizations showcased the first
over-the-air transmission of the accessible radio technology using a signal
from WX3NPR, a special temporary station authorized by the FCC for the live
broadcast.
Attendees at the press conference watched the text transcript of the NPR
flagship morning news magazine "Morning Edition" on the HD Radio receiver's
viewing screen, which is what a hearing-impaired listener will see using the
technology.
Additionally, the demonstration carried a digital radio reading service that
will assist the visually impaired with daily readings of current books,
newspapers and magazines.
Following the demonstration, the participating organizations unveiled
details for the International Center for Accessible Radio Technology
(ICART), which will be headquartered at Towson University in Towson, MD.
Towson will house the primary administrative and academic research office
for the initiative, with NPR Labs in Washington, DC, providing technology
R&D and software development, and Harris Corporation supplying transmission
and research support at its radio broadcast technology center in Cincinnati,
Ohio.
Members of the global initiative went on to detail plans to further study
and understand the challenges faced by the sensory-impaired population in
accessing radio broadcasts, and develop methodologies to address those
issues through cutting-edge technologies. To ensure that the effort
represents the widest range of participants and fosters the broadest
possible adoption, organizers said they will work to bring together
policymakers, broadcasters, transmission equipment companies and receiver
manufacturers from around the world.
Presently, the initiative has more than a dozen members, representing
virtually every aspect of the "microphone to loudspeaker" chain:
broadcasters, network content providers, infrastructure and transmission
equipment companies, and receiver manufacturers. In addition to founding
members NPR, Harris and Towson University, supporting organizations include
iBiquity Digital Corporation, elphi, NDS, Radiosophy, Helen Keller
Institute, Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family National Center for Accessible Media
at WGBH(NCAM), Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of
Hearing Persons, and the G3ict, an Advocacy Initiative of the United Nations
Global Alliance for ICT and Development.
NPR, Harris and Towson will jointly determine strategic direction of the
organization, with assistance from the initiative's full membership. NPR
will provide much of the content, Harris will provide much of the
transmission- related technologies, and Towson will provide research into
the needs of the sensory-disabled population and will house the primary
ICART facility on its campus.
"We're working very closely with radio stations around the world to ensure
they have the right technical infrastructure in place for this initiative,"
said Howard Lance, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Harris
Corporation. "The new HD Radio transmission systems we're installing are
tailor-made for this effort, as their digital capabilities will make it
relatively easy for stations to transmit live textual transcripts to HD
Radio receivers."
"There is tremendous need for accessible radio for sensory-impaired people,
including the deaf, hard-of-hearing, blind, visually impaired, print
impaired, deaf/blind, and mobility impaired," said Dr. Ellyn Sheffield,
assistant professor of psychology at Towson and co-director of ICART. "There
is no question this initiative will have a profound impact on the quality of
millions of people's lives. Finally, sensory-disabled individuals will have
access to all radio programming, as well as radio emergency alerts and vital
disaster
recovery information."
HD Radio enables station operators to split their broadcasts up into
multiple channels, providing several CD-quality channels for their
audiences. Through this accessible radio initiative, a small amount of the
total data capacity will be used to carry textual data that will be shown
live on a screen on new versions of HD Radio receivers, essentially
providing a closed- captioning transcript of live broadcasts for the deaf.
Initially, the closed-captioning text will be created by live,
court-reporting-type captioners at individual stations and networks.
Ultimately, the initiative is hoping to leverage advanced speech-to-text
translation software applications that one day allow expansion of captioning
across the radio dial. Specially equipped HD Radioreceivers are in
development with several features to provide the visually impaired audience
with better access to broadcasts, such as audio prompts that notify which
direction the tuner is going, what channel the radio is on, and larger,
easier-to-read text on the radios.
More than 1,500 radio stations are currently broadcasting in HD Radio in the
United States. Over half of the CPB-qualified stations have been awarded HD
Radio conversion grants by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
According to current estimates, by 2010, all 825 public radio stations
should be broadcasting digitally.
More information on the initiative can be found at
www.i-cart.net.

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