Washington, D.C., October 11, 2006 — The Department of Education’s National Institute of Disability Rehabilitation and Research has awarded a grant to NPR and WGBH’s National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) to develop accessible radio technology for people who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind or visually impaired. The Accessible Digital Radio Broadcast Services grant — in the amount of $150,000 for the first year — will help fund an anticipated three-year research and development project to prototype, field test and assess the cutting-edge radio technologies to serve the needs of people with sensory disabilities. NPR and NCAM are internationally recognized experts in digital radio technologies and accessible media service models.
“As radio moves into the digital transmission arena, public radio is committed to providing people with sensory disabilities equal access to news, entertainment and emergency services,” said Mike Starling, CTO and Executive Director of NPR Labs. “Thanks to the Department of Education’s support through this grant, NPR and our WGBH partner will leverage our shared abilities to deliver on this promise.”
“The time to address the needs of people with sensory disabilities is now,” said Larry Goldberg, WGBH’s Director of Media Access. “Considering those who are deaf or blind at birth, through trauma or illness, or baby boomers reaching retirement age over the next few years, the numbers of Americans with hearing or visual loss are expected to climb. It is crucial for us to address the unique needs of this growing population as we further develop HD radio services.”
In creating radio technologies specifically geared to people with sensory disabilities, NPR and NCAM will bring together experts from broadcasting, academia and non-profit service organizations to best serve the needs of people who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind and visually impaired. The overall goal is to guide the design of prototype digital radios for evaluation by consumers with special needs. At the conclusion of the study period, the design criteria — to be developed with collective input from a representative cross section of disabled consumers — will be turned over to receiver manufacturers as best operating practice. NPR has teamed with Dr. Ellyn Sheffield of Salisbury University, a widely recognized researcher of consumer adaptation to digital radio services, to help design and test the technology in development.
The project’s total budget for the first year is $227,810. The Department of Education grant will cover 65 percent of the project costs for the first year, while NPR will fund the remaining 35 percent. Additional federal funding after the first year is dependent on congressional appropriations.
NPR and the NPR Member stations have a long history of pioneering inclusive access for people with sensory disabilities. More than 100 radio reading services for the blind operating in the United States are offered by NPR stations, providing the reading of text from daily news, books and magazines.
In another effort to make radio programming accessible to the deaf and hearing-impaired community, NPR has in recent years tested Web-based real-time captioning of radio programs through www.NPR.org. For a two-hour special on deaf culture and education airing this Thursday October 12, NPR’s Talk of the Nation has collaborated with WGBH’s Media Access Group, the pioneer of captioning for television, to provide live captioning of the program. The October 12 broadcast will feature an interview with Dr. I. King Jordan, retiring president of Gallaudet University, the world’s only university dedicated to deaf and hard of hearing students and a look at the shifting debate over the cochlear implant. Details can be found at www.npr.org/deafculture.