The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 focuses on ensuring that communications and media services, content, equipment, emerging technologies, and new modes of transmission are accessible to disabled users. The bill is primarily targeted at communications and video equipment manufacturers, video service providers and producers of video content. The act requires that all communications and video programming service or equipment providers must provide services and equipment in an equally accessible manner to ensure compliance with government regulations for accessibility. 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 as needed.
The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 specifies the following:
Amends the Telecommunications Act to increase the scope of communications services and equipment that must be accessible to disabled users.
- (Section 101) Adds and modifies the definitions used in the act.
- (Section 102) Updates the Federal requirement for hearing aid compatibility of telephone equipment to include devices that provide access to Internet-enabled voice communication services.
- (Section 103) Updates the scope of telecommunications relay services (TRS) to require equivalent telephone communication functionality between parties regardless of disability, and to increase relay service obligations for all VoIP service providers.
- (Section 104) Updates the requirements for accessibility of telecommunications equipment (Section 255) to include Internet-based services and equipment. It also enables the FCC to enforce these requirements by establishing complaint procedures and penalties. This section also establishes Section 718 of the Communications Act requiring that Internet browsers built into mobile phone be accessible.
- (Section 105) Establishes the Emergency Access Advisory Committee to ensure individuals with disabilities have equal access to Emergency Services. The FCC shall direct the Emergency Access Advisory Committee in determining the required actions for achieving reliable and interoperable real-time text communication so that disabled users can:
- Access IP-enabled emergency services;
- Communicate reliably regardless of disability.
- (Section 106) Establishes requirements to provide access to relay services for deaf-blind individuals
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.
- (Section 201) Directs the FCC to setup the Video Programming and Emergency Access Advisory Committee. The goal of this committee is to establish methods for transmitting closed captioning over Internet and digital wireless technologies.
- (Section 202) The FCC is authorized to reinstate regulations, originally declared by the FCC in 2001 and struck down by a U.S. Court of Appeals for lack of FCC authority, issuing limited requirements for broadcasters to provide video description on television; is required to establish regulations and methods for video programmers, providers, and distributors to ensure that visually displayed emergency information is accessible to visually impaired users, and is required to revise its regulations for closed captioning to include video programming over the Internet.
- (Section 203) The Television Circuitry Decoder Act of 1990 (all devices manufactured or used in the United States which can receive or play back video programming must be capable of displaying and passing through closed captioning content) shall be extended to include requirements and mechanisms for conveying video descriptions and emergency information accessibly in a non-visual manner, for video equipment to be powered on or off in an accessible manner, and for accessible captioning, video descriptions, and emergency information to be passed between connected devices.
- (Section 204) The FCC shall require that the functionality of all equipment used to control digital video programming is accessible to visually impaired users, that audio output is provided to convey visually displayed information to visually impaired users, and that all control devices provide top-level access to caption or video description information to activate or deactivate this functionality in an accessible manner.
- (Section 205) All visually displayed menus and program guides used for the display or selection of multichannel video programming shall be audibly accessible to visually impaired users, and navigational devices for accessing audibly conveyed information shall provide top-level access to this functionality so that it can be easily enabled or disabled.
The act defines a Video Description as “The insertion of audio narrated descriptions of a program’s key visual elements during natural pauses between the program’s dialogue” and
Video Programming as “Programming generally considered comparable to programming that is provided by a television broadcast station.”
Manufacturers of telecommunications and video equipment already have significant requirements under Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act to produce telecommunication system that provide support for access by individuals with disabilities. That act also requires that closed captioning be provided for both broadcast and cable television. At a basic level, the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 simply expands these requirements to cover new technologies commonly used for the delivery of voice and video in the modern era. Notably, this coverage includes Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and streaming video – both methods in common use in the modern era. In addition to covering new technologies, the act extends the current requirements for captioning and alternatives to require verbal descriptions of visual components, video descriptions and accessible interfaces for physical equipment that controls navigation or selection of communication or video related activities.