Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act Overview

The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA) focuses on ensuring that communications and media services, content, equipment, emerging technologies, and new modes of transmission are accessible to users with disabilities. The bill is primarily targeted at communications software and equipment manufacturers, video service providers and producers of video content. The act requires that all communications and video programming be provided in an accessible manner to individuals with disabilities. The Act builds on a variety of current pieces of legislation relating to accessibility including Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act amending and extending them and prior acts as needed. The principal act amended by the CVAA is the Communications Act of 1934 (“Communications Act”).The overall requirements of the CVAA require that manufacturers and service providers of communications technology provide technology that is accessible, if achievable. Generally this means that equipment that is manufactured or services that are provided must be accessible to people with disabilities. If accessibility is not supported directly in the product or service, manufacturers or service providers must ensure that third party solutions that make the product accessible are available at nominal cost.The CVAA broadly provides that accessibility only needs to be provided “when achievable,” which means with reasonable effort or expense as determined by the FCC. Generally speaking the barrier for accessible development being “not achievable” is high, and entities opting not to provide accessibility based on it being not achievable face the burden of proving this approach.

The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 is split into two titles that specify the following:

Title I – Communication Access – Title I of the CVAA amends specific sections of the Communications Act to increase the scope of communications services and equipment that must be accessible to disabled users.

Title II – Video Programming – Title II focuses on video programming and broadly requires that the FCC conduct inquiries and enforce regulations for making video programming, services and equipment accessible to disabled users.

It is worth noting that manufacturers of telecommunications equipment already have significant requirements under Section 255 of the Communications Act to produce telecommunication systems that provide support for access by individuals with disabilities. The CVAA is intended to build on these requirements and expand them to cover new technologies commonly used for the delivery of communications in the modern era. Notably, in Title I of the CVAA, this coverage is extended to include ACS services and equipment.


Impact

SSB expects that for most organizations the CVAA requirements will principally impact consumer and mass market products in line with the goals of the legislation. The impact will be felt on the covered product types and functions that fall under the scope of the functions defined under the CVAA. For more information see CVAA – Covered Products and Services.

It is important to note that the requirements of the CVAA are generally applicable to both products and services provided by an organization. An organization’s obligations are not solely limited to the products listed in the covered products and services but also to any services provided that in whole or part fit the definition of covered services under the CVAA. As with the product requirements this broadly includes any services that provide (i) voice, text or video communication or (ii) playback or recording of video or television programming.

In addition to ensuring that products and services are themselves accessible, organizations must ensure that products properly pass through information related to accessibility. These requirements cover end user equipment, network equipment, and software and require that these components “pass through cross-manufacturer, nonproprietary, industry-standard codes, translation protocols, formats or other information necessary to provide advanced communications services in an accessible format.” In practice the principal requirement is that as communication services and video are transmitted across networks and systems that accessibility information is not lost as part of the process.

Finally, it is worth noting that the FCC interprets products and services to apply to the entire lifecycle of use for a product or service. The regulations governing the CVAA explicitly cover information, documentation, support and training resources that are provided with a product or service and generally require that these be provided in an accessible fashion. The regulations note that this includes, but is not limited to, “user guides, bills, installation guides for end user devices, and product support communications.” In addition to standard product and service documentation and communications this section also requires that people with disabilities have the ability to access “call centers and customer support regarding both the product generally and the accessibility features of the product.” This includes a requirement that call centers support the communication needs of people with disabilities – notably providing access for people that are deaf or hard of hearing via TTY / TDD.

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