The Federal Communications Commission has decided not to use its equal empolyment opportunity powers to require broadcasters to hire a certain percentage of handicapped persons as they now must do for women and minorities.
In terminating a two-year-old rulemaking procedure, the FCC said in part that "the unique nature of the situation of handicapped persons as compared to the areas of sex and race/ethnicity" made it all but impossible to include them in any reasonable program.
For one thing, the commission noted, the government definition of who is handicapped "includes not only those who have physical or mental impairment but also those who are 'regarded' as having impairment which limits their activities."
The commission also noted it "encompasses individuals who have suffered cosmetic disfigurement and, at the same time, individuals suffering from mental illness . . ."
The definition, one FCC official said yesterday, "is one of the most absured ever written by Congress or the bureaucracy."
"Who is handicapped?" he asked rhetorically, "and how do we determine what part of the workforce they represent?"
The commission study of the matter was triggered more than two years ago by a petition from the California Association of the Physically Handicapped Inc., which asked that the handicapped:
Be included in the commission's equal employment program that requires station owners to hire women and racial minority groups in numbers equal to one-half their proportion of the overall work force.
Be given physical access to broadcast facilities by having them modified for their special needs.
Be included among minortiy groups considered for increased ownership and management of stations.
Other handicapped groups joined in petitioning the commission, and in January 1979, comments were sought from broadcasters and other interested public groups.
More than 80 responses came in on both sides of the issues.
Among the opponents was American Broadcasting Companies Inc., which said any definition of a handicapped person would necessitate "medical evaluations" that were beyond the capabilities of the FCC or the broadcasters.
CBS Inc. argued that the current programming of stations takes in the "viewpoints and tastes" of the handicapped since they are "in large measure those of the general population."
Although it also opposes special treatment for the handicapped, the National Radio Broadcasters Association took a different tack from CBS: the handicapped as a group, it said, has tastes that "are not clearly discernible . . ."
Although handicapped persons were turned down in their effort to get official recognition as part of the equal employment program, they have not come away from the FCC emptyhanded.
The agency is going to set up a "coordinator for broadcasting and the handicapped" who would be part of its Office of Public Affairs.
The coordinator's job would be to pass out information that would help increase handicapped employment in broadcasting.
In a separate opinion on the FCC action, Commissioner Robert E. Lee opposed setting up such a "clearinghouse," which he termed "at best, a 'busybody' function."
Commissioner Joseph R. Fogarty, in another separate opinion, said he joined his colleagues in turning down the handicapped with "considerable reluctance," saying the "nondiscrimination and affirmative action" for them would be "so fraught with administrative uncertainty and difficulty as to vitiate any practical effectiveness."
Commission Chairman Charles D. Ferris concurred in Fogarty's statement.