WASHINGTON (AP) -- Stuck at a Chicago airport recently, Pam Holmes wanted to call her sister who also was in the area. But Holmes, who is deaf, had trouble figuring out how to reach a special local operator who could relay a text message.
She's among millions of speech- and hearing-impaired people who could benefit from the creation of a three-digit number -- 711 -- to make it easier to reach special operators who convert calls to text messages. The Federal Communications Commission was planning to require such a code Friday.
The new 711 code "presents an opportunity not to have missed opportunities." said Holmes, of Madison, Wis.
The agency also is expected to require broadcasters and cable companies to provide some voice-narrated programming of the action in TV shows in their biggest markets.
Both initiatives are part of a wider effort by the FCC to enable more people to share in the communications revolution.
"We've tried to address every aspect of the virtual world and make it accessible," FCC Chairman William Kennard said in an interview.
Pointing to a downtown city sidewalk, Kennard said there was a time when putting ramps on street corners -- called curbs cuts -- was a big deal. But now people accept that as the norm, he said.
"We want to get to a place in the virtual world where this is not debated," he said.
In the TV plan, broadcasters affiliated with NBC, ABC, Fox and CBS in their largest markets initially would have to provide several hours per week of described prime time and/or children's programming. Large cable operators and satellite companies would have similar obligations for a set number of their channels.
In the service, descriptions of events are squeezed into the natural pauses already in the program. For example, television audiences would be told that a character is running down the street or hugging a friend.
Typically, this would be done using a separate audio track that audiences could switch on or off.
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