Just announced: Level Access and eSSENTIAL Accessibility agree to merge! Read more.

Next to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (“CVAA”) is the most important piece of legislation for persons with hearing, vision, dexterity or combined impairments.   Since technology is changing at a rapid pace, the purpose of the CVAA is to update existing communication laws, such as the Telecommunication Act (Section 255), the Television Circuitry Decoder Act of 1990, and provisions 1194.23 and 1194.24 of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The types of communication technologies that the CVAA would affect include:

  •  voice-over Internet providers (VoIP)
  •  handheld devices such as Blackberries and iPhones
  •  iPads
  • videos and video menus
  • relay services
  • broadcast media
  • online media content
  • phone conferencing
  • emergency communication services such as 911

The Differences from Other E&IT Accessibility Laws

As stated above, the CVAA focuses on making advanced and emerging communication and media technologies accessible. Take browsers on mobile devices for example.  While 1194.22 of Section 508 provides guidelines for web-based content, it does not extend to web-based content on mobile devices. However, Section 718 of the CVAA specifies that Internet-based content on mobile phones must be accessible.  For web developers, that means creating zoomable graphics, attaching onscreen keyboard capabilities and pre-defined values for form fields and implementing voice-interaction functions.

Section 104 of the CVAA also stipulates access for persons with disabilities to equipment, services and networks of Internet-based communications.  For instance Skype would fall under this category with its interfaces being keyboard accessible and exposed to screen reader users.  Section 104 of the CVAA expands upon Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act, which covers only telephone systems and services.

Section 103 of the CVAA further amends Section 225 of the Telecommunications Act concerning Telecommunications Relay Services (“TRS”). Section 225 has given the impression that TRS are established to be used between persons with hearing/speech disabilities and those without communication impairments. The CVAA’s Section 103, however, requires TRS systems to have the capability of conduction between any two parties regardless of whether they have communication disabilities or not.  For example, an individual with a hearing impairment can have a relay conversation with someone who cannot speak.  Furthermore, thanks to Section 106 of the CVAA TRS are now required to accommodate deaf-blind callers.

Another difference regards hearing aid capability (“HAC”)  Since sub-provision 1194.23(h) of Section 508 was written, telephone technology has evolved.  The sub-provision requires HAC for “an audio transducer which is normally held up to the ear” (i.e. telephone receivers).   Section 102 of the CVAA widens the HAC requirement to include technology for Internet-based communication, such as mobile phones and bluetooth.

Emergency transmissions for persons with vision and/or hearing impairments is another area where regulatory updates have been made.  Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act and Title II of the ADA requires standard telephone carriers to provide emergency access to Public Service Answering Points (“PSAP”) through TRS.  Section 105 of the CVAA extends that requirement to include emerging technologies, such as pagers, instant messaging and video relay.  Therefore, if a person with a hearing impairment alerts i711 (an Internet-based TRS) it will contact a local 911 PSAP.

Although the Television Circuitry Decoder Act of 1990 and sub-provisions 1194.24(b) and 1194.22(d) require audio descriptions and captioning for video content on televisions that are more than 13 inches and videos that convey an agency’s mission, Section 203 under Title II of the CVAA states that all video content must have audio descriptions regardless of screen size or purpose.  It also requires audio descriptions for televised emergency alerts.  So when a weather alert scrolls at the bottom of the screen, blind persons can hear it.  Moreover, Section 203 requires closed captions for programming video that is transmitted through the Internet.   YouTube is already following through on the requirement by providing Automatic Captioning and Automatic Timing for videos submitted on the site.

Up until the creation of the CVAA, the only regulations to make navigation menus for videos and user interfaces on video consoles accessible have been sub-provisions 1194.21(a) and 1194.21(d) of Section 508.  Nonetheless, these sub-provisions do not specify video controls, only those of software.  Yet, Section 204 and Section 205 of the CVAA concentrate solely on user interfaces to control video operations.  Under these rules, navigation menus to select the language or a certain scene in the video must have audio equivalents for persons who are blind.  Buttons on Internet-based video consoles also must be labeled for screen reader users through such programming interfaces as Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA) and JAVA Accessibility API.

Why Will Clients Care?

Our clients at SSB Bart Group should know and act upon the CVAA for two main reasons.  First, implementing its provisions will generate profit and create a positive social image.  With over 51 million persons with disabilities in the United States spending $175 billion in discretionary income each year, companies that produce telecommunications and emerging technologies want to market to this growing sector.  By adhering to standards based on the CVAA, these companies will also accommodate the changing needs of the 79 million baby boomers in the United States.  Not only will telecommunications and technology companies make giant profits, they will display a public image of caring about customers with limitations.

The second reason that clients should not ignore the CVAA is potential lawsuits.  Just like other disability laws, such as the ADA and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, CVAA opens the door wider for legal actions and the resulting financial losses.  For example, The National Federation of the Blind filed a class action suit against Target because its website was not accessible to blind users.  Target’s $6 million penalty made the retailer think twice about not providing an accessible website.  With the advent of the CVAA, other companies will hopefully think twice also.