The FCC program, Chairman’s Awards for Advancement in Accessibility (Chairman’s AAA) recognizes products, services, standards and other innovative developments that improve the experience of people with disabilities in telecommunications and technology.
“I’m grateful that the FCC can play a role in promoting life-enhancing breakthroughs and encouraging collaborations to fulfill the promise of accessible technologies for millions of Americans,” said Chairman Ajit Pai in a news release.
Winners of the 2017 Chairman’s AAA included Amazon, Facebook, Ava and The Integrated Described Video Best Practices Guide.
Amazon’s VoiceView speaks out loud text that is on-screen as a blind, visually impaired or print-disabled user navigates menu options and settings for video programming via Amazon’s “Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote,” a stand-alone streaming video programming device. Users can customize VoiceView’s rate of speech, volume and key echo, which determines how text characters are echoed back to the user as they are entered with the on-screen keyboard. Other features include: “orientation text,” which provides a onetime description of how to navigate with VoiceView; “review” mode, allowing a user to explore the grid layout of a Fire TV screen in detail; and additional fine control of navigation options for text blocks and descriptive content.
Ava (“audio-visual accessibility”) is a mobile application that connects multiple smartphones and uses the microphone on each individual device to transcribe a conversation among several parties. For example, in a multi-party meeting, a person who is deaf or hard of hearing can launch the Ava app on a smartphone or tablet and invite hearing participants to join via their smartphones. The app generates captions from each participant that are displayed on the user’s device. Using multiple devices improves the quality of the sound and reliability of the speech-to-text engine, and makes it possible to identify speakers automatically.
Alt text is hidden text that screen readers speak aloud to describe an image that cannot be “read” by those devices. This technology enables people who are blind, visually impaired or print-disabled to understand the content of photos, drawings, charts and diagrams. AAT is a new, free feature on Facebook that uses artificial intelligence and object recognition to automatically generate alt text for such images.
The Integrated Described Video Best Practices Guide is an Accessible Media Inc.-led initiative created in collaboration with the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, broadcast service providers, described video practitioners and members of the public. The guide was created to encourage producers to naturally include more descriptive text in scripts, reducing the need to add video description to program content after it is created. The free guide highlights the benefits of IDV and includes best practices and techniques that can be used to create inclusive programming that is more easily understood by blind and low-vision individuals.
Honourable mentions of 2017 Chairman’s AAA included Aira and Teach Access.
Aira is a smartphone app and paid subscription service that connects blind users to sighted agents who use geolocation information, streaming video, and other interconnected devices to provide guidance and information about the user’s surroundings.
Teach Access is an initiative by industry, academia and accessibility advocates to expand the quality and quantity of undergraduate programs that teach the fundamentals of accessibility in fields such as design, computer science and human computer interaction. The initiative has established a core set of Accessibility Fundamental Concepts and Skills on web accessibility, federal accessibility laws and industry best practices, along with an industry guest speakers program and online accessibility tutorials for the purpose of preparing designers, engineers and researchers to build products and services inclusively.
A selection committee at the FCC evaluates nominations based on criteria such as:
- How unique and inventive is the nominated effort?
How does it address disability needs?
Does it have a positive, significant impact in meeting the unique needs of specific
underserved or small populations?
Does it reach a broader audience to increase awareness or promote deployment or adoption of
How affordable and available is the nominated effort for its intended users?
To what degree would the nominated effort significantly and tangibly benefit from recognition by the Chairman?
Here is the speech of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai at the M-Enabling Summit on June 13, 2017
I would like to start off by thanking the Summitís sponsors and organizers for the opportunity to
be a part of this terrific event. And special thanks to the dedicated FCC staff in attendance who work on
accessibility issuesóand in particular, Karen Peltz-Strauss. I may be the Chairman, but Iíve been around
these issues long enough to know that Karen is clearly the FCCís top draw.
Iím proud that the FCC has been a partner in this event from the start. In fact, the Commission
hosted the very first M-Enabling Summit at FCC headquarters back in 2011. And itís a sign of success
that over the past six years, this event has grown to attract thousands of people from around the world
who exchange information about accessible mobile technologies.
As long as Iím Chairman, I can assure you that the FCC will continue to be an active and
enthusiastic participant in this Summit. Thatís because this Summit aligns perfectly with the FCCís
statutory mission and my personal priorities.
Since day one of my Chairmanship, Iíve said the Commission has no higher calling than
extending digital opportunity to all Americans. Every citizen who wants to participate in our digital
economy and society should be able to do soóno matter who you are.
A big part of that is closing the digital divide in our countryóconnecting people who are being
bypassed by the digital revolution. And the simple truth is, in too many instances, that divide persists,
and is perhaps growing.
Thatís why I spent the past week on a road trip from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Casper, Wyoming.
Over 1,672 miles and nearly 20 stops, I personally heard from people in rural towns and Tribal areas
about the need for high-speed connectivity in their communities. And I discussed ways the FCC could
Another aspect of confronting this challenge is to expand digital opportunity for Americans with
disabilities wherever they happen to live. Unfortunately, in this regard, the simple truth is that weíre not
where we need to be. Thereís so much untapped potential, so many people with unexpressed ideas and
unmet hopes. But however large the challenges of accessibility might be, we are working to tackle them
because the opportunities are so much greater.
I think President George H.W. Bush framed this issue perfectly in his remarks after signing the
Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. He said promoting accessibility is about opening ìonce-closed
doors into a new era of equality, independence, and freedom.î That is heady stuff. Equality.
Independence. Freedom. Weíre not talking about minor conveniences. Weíre talking about major
improvements to peopleís lives.
Thatís why itís so important that we make sure that technological inclusion is the norm, rather
than the exception.
Iím proud to have worked with my FCC colleagues over the past five years to empower
individuals with disabilities. Many of our actions flowed from implementation of the Twenty-First
Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA). For example, we adopted rules to bring
the benefits of closed captioning to individuals who watch television on the Internet.
We also sought to ensure that people who are blind or visually impaired have access to Internet
browsers on mobile phones, as well as audible emergency information on TV.
But our efforts have gone beyond implementing the CVAA. Weíre working on ways to improve
video relay services, which can be critical for people who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, or speech-disabled.
We have new rules designed to improve the quality of video captioning.
And weíve adopted rules to encourage the development of real-time textóa modern accessibility
solution thatís being featured at one of the Summitís panels.
Itís not just the outside world weíre changing with our efforts. Weíve also promoted accessibility
through our internal practices. About two years ago, the FCC became the first federal agency to use
interactive broadband video to handle calls to our customer call center from individuals who use
American Sign Language. Weíve seen real success so far. The number of people who use our direct
video calling feature has increased significantly, and more than half of the issues raised during these calls
are resolved right on the spot.
Now, government involvement is important. But itís no substitute for private-sector leadership to
make communications services accessible. Thatís where all of you come in.
Building accessible products and services by design helps everyone. It allows consumers with
disabilities to benefit immediately from technological innovation. It can create buzz for your products. It
can be far cheaper and more effective than retrofitting after a product is built. In short, ìbaking inî
accessibility features can unlock tremendous value throughout the supply chain.
I was particularly heartened to see that you scheduled a panel on a new public-private partnership
on market research. We need to understand how people with disabilities make choices in the
marketplace. This will help us figure out ways to ensure that they take full advantage of the digital
The great thing about this particular conference is that it encourages collaboration among
technology companies and the consumers they serve. This can lead to consensus and solutions that can
At the FCC, we want to help facilitate that collaboration. Our Disability Advisory Committee is
working with external partners to explore how those with disabilities can benefit from using off-the-shelf,
rather than specialized, technologies. This will be easier and less expensive for these consumers, and
better ensure that they can use new technologies as they are developed for everyone else.
Another way the FCC can help is to shine a spotlight on technological breakthroughs that allow
people with disabilities to better communicate.
That brings me to the nightís main event: the Chairmanís Awards for Advancement in
Accessibility, commonly known as ìthe Chairmanís Triple A.î These awards allow the FCC to recognize
notable innovations, improvements, and initiatives in accessibility that were introduced into the market
We had many excellent nominations this year, and I want to congratulate all of the innovators
who came forward to share their technologies and vision. We canít give all of them awards tonight. But
each is helping people with disabilities better interact with the worldóand thatís a much greater reward
than anything we can give them.
Tonight, we honor the best of the best. We are lucky this year to have four winners and two
honorable mentions. I will now turn it over to FCC employee Gerard Williams to announce the awards.
And I would like to assure you that the FCCís crack accounting team has given Gerard the correct
envelopes so that he announces the right winners.
Thank you for inviting me to speak today, and keep up the great work!