NPR Makes Radio More Accessible
National radio broadcasting network NPR announced plans today that it has taken steps to make its programs accessible to both the deaf and blind. With the Harris Company, a communications and IT organization, and Towson University, NPR made the announcement at a press conference at the Consumer Electronics Showcase in Las Vegas, and also gave a demonstration of how the technology works. Combining HD radio with speech-to-text (STT), voice prompts, and spoken commands, the plan presents a holistic approach to making radio more accessible to its global audience of visually and audially impaired users; a group NPR estimates is in the hundreds of millions.
During the press conference, NPR explained how further adaptive technology initiatives will hinge on HD radio -- a technology that allows broadcasters to "split" their programs, assigning each its own channel, played through an HD screen. From there, deaf users may view a broadcast in STT format, similar to television closed captions. For now, NPR is using manual labor to transcribe its broadcasts, but says it will seek out professional STT companies' services soon. Blind users also access HD radio channels, but do so through voice commands in response to prompts. In addition to choosing a program to play, they may also "scan" for channels using their voice.
To further develop the program, NPR has established the International Center for Accessible Radio Technology (ICART) at Maryland's Towson University. In addition to software developers, the initiative will include the input of disability advocates, policy makers, and other broadcast organizations. For now, however, the initiative has taken a three-pronged approach: NPR provides content, Harris provides the technology, and Towson provides continuous improvements and updates through ICART's research.
NPR predicts that all of its 825 stations will be available in HD radio formatby 2010.