It’s hard to find a company that isn’t relying on Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Webex to connect with their employees and customers. While these tools have become second nature to most, they often aren’t accessible to everyone using them.
Only some business leaders using video conferencing have put tools in place to make their video calls more accessible to employees, customers and others on their own. Should the onus fall on them or on the platforms themselves?
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is now taking a stand. Instead of hoping that the Zooms of the world and the companies using them do their due diligence to make their calls accessible, the FCC is proposing a new rule. It would require accessibility for video conferencing services. If approved, the rule will make it so that video conferencing platforms offer clear accessibility solutions.
However, even if the rule doesn’t pass, there are noteworthy accessibility laws already in place. Rather than putting the responsibility on the video conferencing platform, these rules place it on the business using that service to communicate.
Here’s some background on the FCC’s proposed rule, and why even without it, your company should likely start being proactive now.
Exploring the FCC’s proposed rule
FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel recently unveiled the proposed rule, which would make video conferencing platforms follow the requirements of the Communications Act. The FCC would, therefore, have the authority to oversee these services. Currently, the FCC covers other channels of communication, including radio, wire, satellite and television, but not video conferencing. If the rule passes, Zoom and similar services will need to start offering captioning, American Sign Language (ASL) interpretations and text-to-speech capabilities.
The rule also lets the FCC investigate whether conference call service providers violated the Communications Act. With the new rule, the FCC would be able to resolve disputes and, if called for, issue penalties like fines.
Another video accessibility law up for review to be aware of
The FCC’s proposed rule isn’t the only pending law that could impact video conferencing platforms and their users. Legislators proposed the Communication, Video and Technology Accessibility Act (CVTA) in November of 2022. The CVTA would cover video conferencing, but it would also create accessibility requirements in other spaces. The proposal shows that lawmakers are acknowledging the impact of new technologies on people’s lives, jobs and communication capabilities. These tools are becoming unavoidable parts of everyday life. It’s critical to ensure that they’re also accessible for users with disabilities.
One way that the CVTA would contribute toward this is by creating more requirements for audio description on television and streaming platforms. While other solutions, like captions, are common in these settings, audio description is currently rare. Additionally, the law would apply to emerging technologies like AI, virtual reality and augmented reality. These new tools aren’t covered in existing laws creating a clear need for updates.
Why captioning & audio description are getting more attention
Although the new rule would require captioning for video conference platforms, many people are already using them to make these calls accessible. In fact, captions have become increasingly popular, even for people who don’t need them for work or as an accessibility tool. For instance, one Netflix study showed that over 80% of viewers use captions on the platform regularly. Interestingly, most audience members between 18 and 25 use captions even more often than viewers who are older and more likely to experience hearing loss.
The numbers show that captions aren’t just helping people who are Deaf and hard of hearing. They improve viewer experiences in a world that’s full of distractions. Incorporating them into conference calls can offer similar benefits in professional and educational settings.
Audio description is a less common accessibility solution, but it is growing in adoption. It involves a narrator who describes the visual aspects of videos and is often helpful for individuals who are blind or have low vision. Audio descriptions are now being provided for live broadcasts like the Oscars, Grammys and Super Bowl. Requiring audio description for video conferencing platforms seems like the next step in making streamed webinars, meetings and events more accessible as well. Proactive businesses and media outlets are taking note and starting to incorporate this tool into their practices.
Workplace accessibility can’t wait for the proposed rule alone
Even without the passage of a new law or the FCC’s proposed rule, business leaders should be mindful of how accessible their video conferencing platforms are for their employees and others now.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), for example, already requires that employers provide accommodations for employees with disabilities. Additionally, universities already must offer such solutions for their students. Government entities may face even stricter standards for their conferences as other laws create requirements for online access on public websites.
In short, if businesses aren’t making their video conference calls accessible, they could be putting themselves at risk of violating a law. Without the FCC rule, it’s up to business leaders to push their video conference providers for simple solutions to make their calls accessible.
Why your company shouldn’t wait for the FCC’s law to pass
Both the FCC and legislators are determined to update accessibility requirements to match the reality of today’s tools, like video conferencing. It’s likely that the law will catch up and create new requirements for video conferencing platforms. However, waiting for such legislation to pass while continuing to use inaccessible platforms will surely put companies in unfavorable positions.
In the meantime, add-ons and integrations exist, and business leaders need to be proactive about using them for accessibility. Taking the time to look at whether the platform you’re using is accessible as is or needs some fixes is one place to start.
If you’re using Zoom, here are some tips to easily start captioning and transcribing your calls as one fix. Your employees, customers and anyone you’re engaging with online – whether they have a disability or not – will all be helped when your video calls are made accessible. Verbit offers solutions that are made specifically for all conferencing platforms. Reach out to Verbit if you’d like us to start helping you accurately caption and transcribe your calls, meetings and webinars to meet today’s existing guidelines.