CVAA Compliance: The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act

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The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) was signed into law in 2010. The act was written to ensure that people with disabilities would have equal access to “advanced” communications – namely, digital, broadband and mobile products and services. CVAA requirements specify  how and where these technologies must be made accessible to people with disabilities.

CVAA compliance

According to the CVAA, several different types of services and products are considered “advanced” communications. These are grouped under Title I (“Communications Access”) – products and services that connect to the Internet, such as email and text messaging services, web-based services and mobile devices – and Title II (“Video Programming”), products and services involved in the delivery of videos, such as television recording devices, video distributors and online streaming services.

Title I of the CVAA states that laptops, smartphones, tablets, software applications and even gaming consoles that connect to the Internet must be usable by and accessible to people with disabilities. Title II CVAA requirements state that video equipment must be capable of displaying closed captioning and video description, and that user controls must be accessible to people with vision and hearing disabilities. It also sets out requirements for closed captioning and audio description of videos.

Why advanced communications need to be accessible

Today, it’s an everyday occurrence to watch a movie online, interact with a company’s website, communicate by video, or use a smartphone to check the news.

According to research by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), people are less likely to go online if they have a disability. That’s partly, says the FCC, because of the barriers these individuals encounter while trying to use the Internet. A study conducted last year by the Pew Research Center reveals  that people with disabilities are about three times more likely than those without disabilities to say they never use the Internet.

When barriers to technology are reduced, or eliminated, however, people with disabilities can seamlessly engage with products and services.

Removing barriers to using the internet

Within Title I of the CVAA, any provider of technology, whether it’s a product or a service, must ensure the technology is accessible if it connects to the Internet – or that third-party assistive technology (AT) is made easily available and supported. This third-party AT can’t be costly for the consumer, however. It’s also prohibited to add features or functions to a product or service that could make it more difficult for people with disabilities to use the technology.

This doesn’t apply only to manufacturers. Any company that provides an app or a service over the Internet is considered a “provider of advanced communications services” and is obligated according to CVAA requirements to ensure that the app or service is barrier-free.

How can you be assured barriers are removed? The FCC recommends that if a company does rely on third-party AT to meet accessibility-related needs, it should ensure that people with disabilities themselves are involved in the consultation. They are in the best position to assess whether the technology is usable and functional.

Removing accessibility barriers in video

Video is an increasingly popular way to communicate and convey information. It’s a component of virtual business meetings, marketing, education, socializing and entertainment. It’s also used in the distribution of news and public safety information. If videos aren’t accessible, however, not everyone can benefit from the information the video is intended to communicate

One frequent barrier emphasized in the CVAA requirements is a lack of closed captioning. Closed captioning is a visual display (e.g. a written transcription) of the dialogue, narration and other relevant sounds, such as a knock at the door, that are essential to understanding the video. Closed captioning is a necessity for many people who are deaf or hard of hearing. But they’re also useful for  those playing video in a noisy environment, or a quiet space.In fact, several studies around the world, such as one by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network,reveal a significant number of people who use captions aren’t necessarily using them for hearing-related issues.

Another type of accessibility barrier is a lack of video descriptions for people who are blind. Video descriptions are an audio narration of the visual components of the video. Whenever there are pauses in the video’s dialogue, a voiceover gives descriptions of what is happening visually.

Complying with CVAA requirements for video

The CVAA lists the ways that videos are to be made accessible on the Internet. For example, any programming that is captioned on television must also be captioned when it’s streamed online. And as of July 1, 2017, any Internet video clips of “live and near-live” television programming – such as sports events and news – must have captioning within a certain time frame.

Although the CVAA requirements do not apply to all online videos at this time, it is expected that this will continue to evolve  as more and more video content is broadcast online, without first going to television.

Even so, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) continues to protect disability rights in situations where CVAA requirements do not yet apply. That’s because the ADA prohibits any kind of discrimination against people with disabilities. Specifically, Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in all programs, activities, and services of public entities. If an organization is a public entity and fails to make its programs accessible, it may be the subject of legal action.

As an example, the U.S. Department of Justice responded to a complaint by the National Association of the Deaf alleging that the University of Berkeley was in violation of Title II of the ADA. The Department of Justice proceeded to investigate the university’s online course material, and subsequently instructed the University of Berkeley, in no uncertain terms, to remove barriers from videos and other website components such as inaccessible PDF documents.

It’s time to eliminate barriers

In many ways, human rights legislation is catching up to advancing technology. Companies that move quickly to eliminate barriers from their digital properties will be in an advantageous position – ahead of the curve. Not only will they be in compliance with current and future accessibility laws and rulings, they’ll also benefit from serving a wider variety of people and their needs. 

An innovative solution

eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY has developed a comprehensive accessibility solution to help organizations maintain compliance with standards and regulations, including CVAA requirements. This includes integrating web compliance evaluation services with assistive technology to deliver a transformative experience for people with disabilities. Learn more about eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY’s innovative solution.

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What to do next

We can help you meet WCAG standards and maintain ADA and AODA compliance:

  1. Connect with us today to learn more about our comprehensive approach to digital accessibility, including our automated and manual auditing capabilities and extensive range of managed services.
  2. Visit our resources section to download free white papers and webinars, and find our newest blogs on industry trends.
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Gartner report

Recognized as a Representative Vendor in the 2023 Gartner Market Guide for Digital Accessibility report.

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