Las Vegas - Jan 8, 2008 - NPR, Harris and Towson University have launched a new initiative to make radio more accessible to hearing and visually impaired people around the world. At a press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show, the 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. 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 HD Radio 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 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 supplying transmission and research support at its radio broadcast technology center in Cincinnati.
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, specific member organizations include Ibiquity Digital, Delphi, NDS, Radiosophy, Helen Keller Institute, the National Center for Accessible Media/WGBH, Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons, and the United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development.