NPR to demo captioned radio at White House


NPR’s research and development group, NPR Labs, has been invited to demonstrate its latest technical innovations at the White House and at the Commerce Department as part of the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  At both events, NPR Labs will demo its captioned-radio initiative which paves the way for enabling deaf and hard of hearing Americans to experience or “listen” to radio.

At the White House, the NPR Labs team will show government officials and representatives from groups representing disability communities its prototype car dashboard featuring a captioned-radio display. 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. 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.

NPR Labs will also take part in a technology expo set up by The Commerce Department and the FCC and will demo the technology to the public and government officials.

The development is the core focus of public radio: to provide services for unserved and underserved audiences, including the hearing impaired. One in every ten Americans – 36 million people — has hearing loss, and this number is expected to double by the year 2030, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America.

At the Commerce Department, NPR Labs will demonstrate the dashboard as well as one of its technologies for the blind and visually impaired. Its Personalized Audio Information Service (PAIS) 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, which can be transmitted in the comment title field of a standard HD radio channel. The tags can also command HD receivers to alert the listener to emergency messages, such as tornado or hurricane warnings. Major funding for NPR Labs’ accessibility projects has been provided by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research and the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program.

“With PAIS, captioned radio, and several other initiatives, we’re achieving our goal of ensuring that everyone who wants public radio programming and other information can get it conveniently and in a timely manner,” said Pete Loewenstein, Vice President of NPR Distribution, which oversees NPR Labs.

NPR Labs conducted the first live captioned radio broadcast on election night 2008, when NPR’s election coverage was simulcast in captioned-radio format. The team collaborated with the International Center for Accessible Radio Technology at Towson (MD) University, WGBH’s (Boston) Media Access Group, and Harris Corp. to provide live captioning coverage for five local Public Radio Satellite System stations: WGBH; WTMD in Towson, MD; WAMU in Washington, DC; KFCR, Colorado Public Radio in Denver, and KJZZ in Phoenix.