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Last week’s post in our blog series on Sections 204 and 205 of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) gave an overview of Section 205. This week we’ll take a more detailed look at who must comply, what is and is not covered, what must be made accessible and how to achieve accessibility as outlined in report and order FCC 13-138.

Who must comply?

  • Multi-channel video programming distributors (MVPDs) – Must offer accessible devices through the same means they offer other customers requesting devices
  • Hardware and software manufacturers of MVPD supported devices – Must make the devices available through the same channels that they make devices available to other customers such as through retailers, phone, email, and websites.

What is covered?

  • CableCARD slot or other conditional access technology
  • Set-top boxes
  • Digital cable ready televisions
  • Devices with pre-installed MVPD applications
  • Cable modems
  • DVRs (such as TiVo) that contain an MVPD conditional access mechanism
  • Computers, tablet and smartphones that contain pre-installed MVPD applications (FCC 13-138 ¶ 51)

What is not covered?

  • Customer-installed MVPD apps on laptops and computers
  • MVPD apps provided for use but not pre-installed on smartphones and tablets.
  • Devices not used to access MVPD content

What must be accessible?

There are two broad areas that must be made accessible:

1. Upon request, provide a device that allows access to on-screen text menus and guides for the display or selection of multichannel video programming including applications. This includes:

  • User interface of navigation devices
    • Menus used to access video programming
    • Program guides
    • Accessibility configuration features
    • Interactive content – commerce and onDemand – other services offered by MVPD (FCC 13-138 ¶ 23)
    • Access to on demand video programming (FCC 13-138 ¶ 25)

2.  Navigation devices with built-in closed captioning capability must provide “access to that capability through a mechanism [that] is reasonably comparable to a button, key, or icon designated for activating the closed captioning, or accessibility features.” (FCC 13-138 p. 51) This closed caption key or similar feature must be always available – not just on request.

Practically speaking, this means there must be a straightforward mechanism to activate closed captions for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The FCC does not define the specific mechanism and does not require it be a specific number of steps. Instead, examples are given of mechanisms that would meet this requirement. These include, but are not limited to:

  • A dedicated button, key, or icon
  • Voice commands
  • Gestures
  • A single step activation from the same location as the volume controls. In contrast, for example, turning off the device in order to access the closed captioning activation mechanism through another menu is indicated as not an acceptable method. (FCC 13-138 ¶ 79)

Note: Item 2 does not apply to other accessibility features such as enabling spoken menus or customization of the fonts and colors for captions and only applies to turning on/off closed captions.  At this time, this requirement for a key or reasonably comparable feature does not cover a mechanism for video description.

How to achieve accessibility?

Access to on-screen menus and guides for the display or selection of video programming can be achieved in several different ways.

Generally, this means providing audio output for covered features of the device that contain on-screen menus and guides.  Audio can be integrated into the device, or can be a peripheral to the device. However, it must be available for real time access.

This can be met by:

  • For MVPDs providing separate accessible equipment to customer
  • For manufacturers, offering an accessible version of equipment for sale where inaccessible equipment is offered for sale
  • Making all devices accessible
  • Providing a tablet, laptop, or smart phone with installed software (separate solution)

Note: MVPDs and manufacturers cannot charge more for the solution than what other customers pay for the class of device requested by customers who are blind or visually impaired. For example, if a laptop or tablet is required, it is seen as a separate equipment solution, and the MVPD or manufacturer must provide that device at no additional charge.  Manufacturers cannot require customers to purchase additional devices such as a tablet. (FCC 13-138 ¶ 103)

If the device contains any of the following features they must be made accessible:

  • Power on and off
  • Volume adjust and mute
  • Channel / Program Selection
  • Display Channel / Program Information
  • Configuration – Setup
  • Configuration – CC Control
  • Configuration – CC Options
  • Configuration – Video Description Control
  • Display Configuration Info
  • Playback Functions
  • Input Selection

While audio can be used to make nine of the above features accessible, two of the features (power on and off, volume adjustment and mute) may not have visual indicators and thus can be made accessible without requiring audio output. These features can be made accessible by following these criteria:

  • Operable without vision: The digital apparatus must provide at least one mode that does not require user vision.
  • Operable with low vision and limited or no hearing: The digital apparatus must provide at least one mode that permits operation by users with visual acuity between 20/70 and 20/200, without relying on audio output.
  • Operable with little or no color perception: The digital apparatus must provide at least one mode that does not require user color perception.

Note: The above criteria are the same criteria for operation that are used in the CVAA ACS report and order as performance objectives that address access by people who are blind or visually impaired.