In 2010, legislators responded to the need to improve TV and phone accessibility for Americans with disabilities by adopting the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA).

Technological innovation continues to forge ahead more rapidly than the legislation meant to govern it. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which has the authority to set rules under the CVAA, recently accepted comments from the public about how the current rules successfully address or fail to address new technology. The comment period ended on June 6th, and the responses are now due on July 7th. Changes to the rules may lead to TV and online video providers needing to take additional steps to make their media content accessible.

Understanding the CVAA

Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 address accessibility, the importance of technology has made media accommodations just as vital as those in physical workplaces and other environments.

The CVAA applies to television, online media, movies and video games. There are two titles in the law.

TITLE I: Addresses communications, like text messaging, email, video messaging and instant messaging. Title I led to audio for these messaging forms, text messaging and captions for 9-1-1 calls. Up until 2012, Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals faced obstacles in contacting emergency services because of the lack of text or captions.

TITLE II: Applies to video programming. Part of the focus in Title II is safety-related. The CVAA mandates that video programming equipment, including smartphones, tablets and computers that viewers use to access television content, provide emergency information and captioning for people who are Deaf or Blind. The law also requires that the cables that connect to devices transmit that information in an accessible manner. Although Title II led to video content captioning for anything appearing on TV and later distributed on the internet, online videos require no such captioning, even if the content later appears on TV.

How and why might the rules change?

Laws are failing to keep up with technological innovation. Offering better accommodations is likely easier and less costly than it was a decade ago when the CVAA became law. Some elements of the law are also obsolete thanks to new solutions.

Video games and virtual reality are two areas where many believe accessibility upgrades and FCC ruling changes are needed to support the Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities.

What is an exemption to the CVAA?

The FCC is responsible for enforcing rules based on the CVAA. In exceptional cases, the FCC can issue exemptions for specific media, allowing them to avoid including accommodations. In 2012, the FCC offered such an exemption for video games. However, the exemption ended in 2018, and the FCC refused to renew.

The waver applied to in-game chat features. The FCC found that improvements to technology between 2012-2018 meant that it became reasonable to expect manufacturers to offer more accessibility. Manufacturers and broadcasters can still request special exemptions when a compelling reason exists.

Measuring accessibility and violations of the CVAA

The CVAA does not include specific accommodations but instead leaves rule-setting and enforcement to the FCC. The FCC can update and change its rules to keep up with modern technology.

Enforcement of the CVAA works similarly to that of the ADA. No specific standards exist in the ADA. When it comes to web accessibility, adhering to the ADA often involves compliance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which are international standards and not legally mandated rules.

Both of these laws are concerned with the experience of the end-user or consumer of information. In the case of the CVAA, the law mandates accessibility for people who fall into a broad definition of living with disabilities, as long as accommodations are achievable. Achievable accommodations are those that are technologically feasible and economically or logistically reasonable.

It’s wise to consider these accommodations carefully, as a single, unresolved violation can lead to up to more than 1 million USD in fines.

Accommodations aren’t just about the law

Advocates note that the culture surrounding accommodations is changing. Corporations are less likely to view their obligations as a legal burden and are proactively looking for ways to reach wider audiences and increase their inclusivity. This smart approach considering the needs of millions of American individuals – not to mention international media consumers – who are Deaf, hard of hearing, Blind, or otherwise navigating a recognized disability.

Offering accessibility can help avoid lawsuits and bad press, but the benefits of inclusivity are the true motivator for today’s media producers and content creators.

Verbit works with leading producers of TV shows, films and others to ensure they’re using tools that make their media accessible and reach greater pools of audiences. Click here to learn more about how Verbit’s media-specific technology, including captioning and transcription tools and their use cases.