CVAA: What You Need to Know About Video Accessibility

This article provides information about accessibility laws and regulations, but is not legal advice. You should consult a lawyer for advice on specific legal issues or problems.

In our constantly connected world, we’re accustomed to viewing video content on demand. Whether it’s watching a funny viral clip or a home repair tutorial, streaming video has the power to educate, entertain, and engage.

The widespread use of video in recent decades has led to legislation, the CVAA, that requires making video content more accessible when repurposed for digital channels. These requirements stipulate that online video and gaming content include captions and audio descriptions. These assistive technologies help people with hearing and visual impairments experience videos and video games.

In this post, we define the meaning of the CVAA, describe what makes an accessible video, and outline how your company can meet the associated requirements.

What is the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010?

The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) is a federal law that aims to increase the accessibility of modern communications services and technologies for individuals with disabilities. Signed into law in 2010, the CVAA covers video programming, telecommunications, digital communications, and advanced communications services.

Title I primarily deals with telecommunication technology and services; Title II deals with video programming and content.

The CVAA is one of several federal laws, like the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), to recognize that people with disabilities have a right to access and be included in our digital world. By mandating accessibility to communication services and video content, the CVAA helps ensure that individuals with disabilities can fully engage and participate in government, business, and other public spaces.

Provisions of the law, such as requiring closed captions, audio descriptions, accessible user interfaces, and other accessibility features, can drive benefits for more than just people with disabilities. Fulfilling these requirements can also promote innovation by encouraging the development of accessible communication services, improve the overall user experience, and show an organization’s commitment to working toward a more inclusive society that values diversity and equal opportunities.

Why Is Video and Video Game Accessibility Important?

Making video content accessible has many benefits. When it comes to developing content for businesses, colleges and universities, and other organizations, the popularity of video is hard to ignore. YouTube has approximately 122 million users per day watching a wide variety of content around the globe. According to a TechSmith video viewer survey, 83% of respondents prefer watching video to accessing information or instructional content via text or audio. When video content and games are not accessible to all, it constricts the ability of all people to enjoy your content, limiting reach, impact, and potential sales.

Video games are also an influential part of our culture and a popular pastime, with people spending an average of 34 minutes a day playing them. This multi-billion dollar industry includes games played on mobile devices, personal computers, and gaming consoles by people of all ages.

With so many people spending so much time-consuming video and gaming content, it is essential for companies that produce this content to ensure it is accessible to all people.

CVAA Title I: Telecommunications Access

CVAA Title I focuses on the accessibility of two-way telecommunications services and equipment, defined as interconnected services that provide real-time or near real-time, two-way voice or video communications. It includes Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, instant messaging, and electronic messaging services. Advanced communications services are common tools for business, like video and teleconferencing platforms or collaboration tools like Slack or Skype. This technology also includes smartphones, tablets, and computers.

Here are the requirements for these technologies and services:

  • Accessible User Interfaces: Under Title I, advanced communications services and products must be accessible to people with disabilities via options such as text-to-speech and magnification.
  • Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS): TRS allows individuals with hearing or speech disabilities to communicate with others using telephone services. CVAA Title I extends TRS definitions to include services for deaf and deaf-blind people. It requires supporting communications between different types of relay users. The law also requires VOIP providers to contribute to a TRS fund, directing these funds toward the advancement of communication and general internet services for low-income deaf-blind people.
  • Compatibility with Assistive Technology: Title I mandates that advanced communications services and equipment must be compatible with assistive technologies commonly used by individuals with disabilities. This ensures that people can effectively use their assistive devices, such as screen readers or alternative input devices, to access these services.
  • Technical Standards Development: The law directs the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to develop technical standards to improve the accessibility of advanced communications services and equipment to guide manufacturers and service providers in meeting the requirements.
  • Emergency Services Accessibility: Title 1 authorized the FCC to ensure that next-generation emergency services like 911 are accessible to people with disabilities.

CVAA Title II: Video Programming

Title II of the CVAA relates to video content on television and online. Here are the requirements:

  • Closed Captioning: Closed captions provide text representation of the audio content, enabling individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to understand the dialogue and sounds. Title II of the CVAA requires that video content that has been shown on television with captions must also have captions when shown via the internet.
  • Timing of Captions: The CVAA sets deadlines for posting closed captioning based on factors like the type of programming and the date of original airing. Live video must have captions posted within 12 hours. For near-live video programming, captions must be up within 8 hours. Broadcasters, cable operators, and distributors are responsible for ensuring timely captioning implementation.
  • Emergency Information: Title II requires that all video content that conveys emergency information, such as weather alerts and evacuation details, be made accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. Broadcasters must provide aural and visual representations of this information, ensuring that everyone has equal access during emergencies.
  • Technological Advances and User Controls: Video technology is constantly evolving. Title II requires user controls for TVs and other video programming devices to be accessible, and that these interfaces include a mechanism for activating closed captioning and audio description. This extends to on-screen text menus and program guides displayed on TV by set-top boxes.
  • Audio Description: CVAA Title 2 restores FCC audio description requirements from 2000, which requires a certain number of hours of audio-described TV programming, and which in turn requires AD to be made available when those programs are shown via the internet.

Notably, internet-only video content is exempt from CVAA closed captioning requirements, including user-generated content such as videos uploaded to YouTube. However, content may be subject to accessibility requirements under other legislation, such as the ADA.

CVAA Requirements for Video Game Accessibility

The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act did not originally include requirements for accessibility in video games. Congress updated the law in 2019 to include a number of accessibility requirements. These video game accessibility guidelines include captioning for game narration, audio narration to describe the visual action, high-contrast mode, screen magnification, and controls that are accessible to people with disabilities.

The goal of these requirements is to ensure video games are accessible for people with visual, motor, speech, hearing, and cognitive disabilities.

How to Become CVAA Compliant

Organizations that create video content or sell advanced communication services and technology have numerous tools available to them to ensure compliance and a quality user experience for all.

  • Review all audio-visual content to make sure that it is CVAA compliant. TPGi can help with our usability testing tools and audit services.
  • Identify remediation strategies for non-compliant content. Engaging individuals with disabilities in user flow testing can provide valuable insights into accessibility barriers and help companies make necessary improvements.
  • Implement remediation work using commercially available tools such as captioning and audio description services. TPGi can help provide recommendations for the right providers for your needs.
  • Establish new workflows to ensure that future video content is CVAA-compliant from the beginning.

As an organization develops its process for achieving and maintaining CVAA compliance, WCAG Guidelines can be a helpful starting place. Although the CVAA does not explicitly reference WCAG standards, WCAG is widely recognized as the industry standard for web accessibility. WCAG is a useful reference point when implementing accessibility measures, but it should not be assumed that WCAG conformance guarantees CVAA compliance, or vice versa.

Learn More About Video Accessibility

Achieving CVAA compliance is critical for ensuring the accessibility of relevant digital content, and its provisions are an important standard for both current and future video communication. If you have questions about CVAA requirements, tools that can help evaluate and remediate accessibility issues, or the best path forward for your organization, we invite you to reach out to the TPGi team.

Categories: Accessibility Strategy, Legal, World of Accessibility
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