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April 26, 2006

Press Release

Access to In-Flight Entertainment and Information for Passengers with Disabilities Focus of Latest WGBH/NCAM R&D Effort

Project Begins as U.S. Department of Transportation Proposes Improvements for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Travelers

WGBH's National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) has been awarded a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education's National Institute on Disability Research and Rehabilitation (NIDRR) to make airline travel more accessible to passengers with sensory disabilities.

The project, "Making In-Flight Communications and Entertainment Accessible," will examine the technical barriers and develop solutions for making the range of airline entertainment, communications and information accessible to flyers with sensory disabilities. Solutions and resulting recommendations will include the integration of captioning for video and audio, descriptive narration for visual images and audio navigation for system menus and interface design.

Partners for this project are the World Airline Entertainment Association, Panasonic Avionics Corporation, and the National Center on Accessible Transportation at Oregon State University. Caesar Eghtesadi, president of Tech For All and an expert in accessible technologies, is acting as project manager for NCAM.

The genesis of the project occurred in early 2004, when a representative of Panasonic Avionics visited NCAM to ask for its assistance in making the company's products accessible to people with disabilities, especially motivated by his son who is blind. His interest was backed by years of complaints by people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing who also desired access to in-flight entertainment through captions. A proposal was submitted to NIDRR to take on the challenge and was granted in late 2005.

Project activities began at a fortuitous time. The U.S. Department of Transportation has recently issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), available now for public comment (through June 24, 2006), to address the barriers passengers who are deaf or hard of hearing experience during air travel, from departure lounge, at the gate, in flight and through to arrival lounge. The NPRM is a result of many years of negotiation between Department of Transportation officials, representatives of major national organizations of deaf and hard-of-hearing consumers, and airline industry stakeholders. Information about the proposed rule and instructions for commenting can be found at: (search for Docket no. OST-2006-23999).

Each new project NCAM undertakes is guided by consumer concerns and is built on its history of successful media access R&D efforts. Activities of the following NCAM projects in particular will inform the Access to In-Flight Entertainment project:

Speech Solutions for Next Generation Media Centers
Access to Convergent Media
Access to Rich Media
Motion Picture Access®/MoPix®
Access to Digital Cinema

About WGBH's National Center for Accessible Media

WGBH developed captioning for television in the early '70s and brought video description (description of on-screen action, settings, costumes and character expressions inserted during pauses in dialogue) to television and videos in the late '80s. Throughout the '90s, these services were applied and integrated into other forms of mass media and for a range of venues, including movie theaters, Web sites, and classrooms. Today, all of WGBH's access initiatives are gathered in one division, the Media Access Group at WGBH.

About WGBH

WGBH Boston is America's preeminent public broadcasting producer, the source of fully one-third of PBS's prime-time lineup, along with some of public television's best-known lifestyle shows and children's programs and many public radio favorites. WGBH is the number one producer of Web sites on, the most-visited dot-org on the Internet. WGBH is a pioneer in educational multimedia and in technologies and services that make media accessible to the 36 million Americans who rely on captioning or video descriptions. WGBH has been recognized with hundreds of honors: Emmys, Peabodys, duPont-Columbia Awards... even two Oscars. In 2002, WGBH was honored with a special institutional Peabody Award for 50 years of excellence. For more information visit the WGBH Web site.

For additional information about all of NCAM's activities and the projects mentioned, please visit


Mary Watkins
Natonal Center for Accessible Media (NCAM)
phone: 617 300-3700 voice
617 300-2489 TTY