CHAT ROOM: Captain Accessibility

In the Chat Room this month, THE STANDARD sat down with Chris Homer. He chairs the S34 Specialist Group on Applications and Presentation, which among other things deals with ATSC 3.0 standards related to accessibility for people with disabilities. Currently Vice President of Solutions Engineering at Gaian Solutions, Homer is a past member of the ATSC board of directors and former Vice President of Operations and Engineering at PBS.

THE STANDARD: As Chairman of S34, your perspectives on the state of Next Gen TV at this critical ATSC 3.0 early-implementation phase?

HOMER: A year ago, we were all pushing to get the standard(s) out in order to support the initial deployments inspired by the FCC adoption a year ago. The efforts today are kind of diverse. First of all, some pieces of the puzzle, like security, still needs some attention. Second, refinements are being made to existing standards – various updates, clarifications and recommended practices, for example. Third, a very welcome 3.0 training initiative has now formed with the help of SBE and IEEE BTS. And lastly, with actual deployments in the U.S. and in Korea it appears the word is spreading. I was fortunate this year to be representing PBS with ATSC team members at the CIRT Conference in Mexico City (Mexico’s NAB Show). I was impressed by their interest and the depth of their questions after the presentations and demos.

THE STANDARD: Chris, both at PBS and at ATSC, you’ve been a passionate leader on incorporating advanced accessibility features into Next Gen TV. Remind us please about how ATSC 3.0 is designed to help people with hearing and sight disabilities?

HOMER: I’m passionate, perhaps, because my mother was almost blind. I’ll never forget the day I arrived at her home and saw the TV was off. Since it was always playing her Spanish Novellas, I had to ask why. Of course, I already knew the answer. If my mom was alive today she would be enjoying audio books on her tablet or phone, descriptive video on television and with ATSC 3.0 descriptive video in English or Spanish. Each of us knows someone with accessibility needs and if you find yourself in a position to do something to make someone’s life easier well that’s the best reward anyone in technology could ask for. I’m also really excited how AI (artificial intelligence) is going to change people’s lives so we have much to look forward to.

THE STANDARD: With initial rollouts under way around the country, what advice do you have for broadcasters to bring ATSC 3.0 accessibility to their viewers?

HOMER: The best advice is to embrace the opportunities that ATSC 3.0 provides. In the PBS world, the mission is to reach all audiences so it’s important to make accessibility part of the business plan and provide a quality experience for the audience including those with accessibility needs. The caption standard called IMSC1 hasn’t only taken off for the Web, it now has wide international support, too. Dialog enhancement is going to be a great tool for both hearing impaired and audiences in noisy environments, so broadcasters need to produce content that takes advantage of it. There are other aspects of the next gen audio formats that, like my earlier use case for descriptive video in alternate languages, use minimal bandwidth and still provide the audience with the same immersive experience the main audience hears. Basically, the tools are there so let’s put them to good use.