CVAA: Communications and Video Accessibility Act Explained

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CVAA: Communications and Video Accessibility Act Explained

Posted June 04, 2024


Posted June 04, 2024

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Summary: The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) was enacted in 2010 to ensure individuals with disabilities can access “advanced” technology. This article explains the CVAA, including who it applies to and what it covers.

The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), signed into law on October 8, 2010, is arguably the most important accessibility law since the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As the number of Americans with disabilities continues to rise (currently, 61 million US adults have a disability), new legislation is needed to ensure these users have equal access to technology and communications.

That’s the purpose of the CVAA: to increase access to emerging technologies for the disability community. Below, we’ll discuss what the CVAA is, its requirements, and how your organization can comply with CVAA guidelines.

What is the Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA)?

The primary goal of the CVAA is to ensure individuals with disabilities have access to modern communications and video programming technologies. The CVAA mandates that these technologies — including smartphones, mobile devices, television services, and other internet-based platforms — are designed to be accessible to individuals with disabilities. This encompasses accessibility features such as closed captioning, audio descriptions, accessible user interfaces, and compatibility with assistive technologies

The CVAA was created in response to the growing digital nature of today’s world. Sixty-one million people in the US have a disability, yet much of the web remains inaccessible to this huge user group. The act was designed to ensure the disabled community can access the digital technologies we use daily.

What are Advanced Communication Services?

Under the CVAA, advanced communication services (ACS) and technologies are required to be accessible. These technologies fall into two categories, which we’ll discuss in more detail below.

Advanced Communications: Title I

Title I of the CVAA is focused on communication accessibility. It covers interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and non-interconnected VoIP services. 

Interconnected VoIP services allow users to make and receive calls to and from a traditional telephone network. A smartphone is an example of an interconnected VoIP service. Non-interconnected VoIP services allow communication between users on the same service or platform. Skype, WhatsApp, and Google Voice are examples. Title I of the CVAA mandates that interconnected VoIP services must be accessible to individuals with disabilities. 

Additionally, under the CVAA, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been authorized to ensure that 9-1-1 services are accessible to people with disabilities. For example, people who have hearing loss or are unable to hear on the phone may use text messaging or captioning services to communicate. Until recently, 9-1-1 could not be reached by text message, and captions would not automatically appear. The FCC addressed these issues in the Next Generation 911 Advancement Act of 2012 to ensure that everyone would be able to contact emergency services.

Advanced Communications: Title II

Title II of the CVAA focuses on the accessibility of video communications and programming, which directly affects web accessibility for individuals with disabilities. Put simply, Title II requires that ACS provided over the Internet, including email, instant messaging, and text messaging, be accessible and usable by individuals with disabilities.

The CVAA also requires that people with disabilities have access to emergency information and closed captioning through “video programming equipment” and devices that measure smaller than 13 inches. For example, televisions, portable televisions, smartphones, tablets and laptops that have the capability of displaying television programming. The law also requires that cables connecting televisions to source devices must be able to carry (or transmit) emergency and closed-captioning information.

Understanding CVAA Compliance

One of the first steps towards CVAA compliance is knowing whether or not you need to comply and understanding which accessibility requirements you need to follow.

First, determine whether the CVAA applies to your business. The CVAA applies to organizations that develop web-based videos that are captioned initially on TV or if you offer ACS (like instant messaging or email) to the general public. The act does not apply to user-generated online videos such as those hosted on YouTube.

If your organization does fall under CVAA compliance, you need to understand the act’s requirements. We’ve included a few of them below:

  • Provide closed captioning for video programming.
  • Implement audio and video descriptions for video content.
  • Ensure compatibility with assistive technologies, such as screen readers, alternative input methods, and other accessibility tools.
  • Make emergency information accessible on television through visual alerts, audio descriptions, and on-screen text.
  • Provide real-time text communication for individuals with disabilities.
  • Ensure communication compatibility with hearing aids and cochlear implants.
  • Make telecommunications and ACS accessible in emergencies.
  • Offer accessible customer service and customer support options.

A complete list of CVAA requirements can be found on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) website.

Penalties for Non-compliance with the CVAA

Failing to comply with CVAA requirements can result in penalties and enforcement actions overseen by the FCC. Depending on the severity, penalties may include expensive fines or sanctions. These are just the penalties enforced by the FCC. Non-compliance can also damage a company's reputation, decrease customer trust, and result in a poor user experience.

For example, in 2014, the FCC reached a settlement agreement with a major telecommunications company for failing to provide closed captions for videos. The company was required to pay a large fine and take steps to increase accessibility for those who are deaf or have other hearing impairments. Not only did this cost the company significant time and resources, but it also damaged its reputation with the Deaf community.

Legal document with CVAA on it with a gavel and a certification ribbon.

Importance of the CVAA

The CVAA is a critical piece of accessibility legislation in today’s digital world. The mandate ensures that individuals with disabilities have equal access to essential communication technologies and video content. By requiring programming distributors to make their services and platforms accessible, the CVAA ensures everyone can fully participate online, regardless of their abilities.

Compliance with the CVAA benefits not only individuals with disabilities but also businesses and society as a whole. Here’s how:

  • Promotes inclusivity and equal access to communication technologies and video content.
  • Enhances the user experience for all users, including those with situational disabilities (i.e., being in a noisy environment).
  • Aligns with ethical and corporate social responsibility values. 
  • Expand your market reach and business opportunities by helping you reach a wider audience. 
  • Mitigates the risk of legal penalties or fines from regulatory authorities.
  • Fosters a more inclusive, equitable society.

Put simply, the CVAA helps to further accessibility and inclusivity in today’s digital world. It ensures individuals who are Deaf or hard of hearing can enjoy the latest episode or be alerted to emergency situations through alternative methods. Those with visual impairments can stay caught up on local or world news or read email or text messages via text-to-speech tools. Users benefit from knowing content is accessible and can fully participate online.

By embracing digital accessibility, you help drive positive social impact, enhance the user experience, unlock business opportunities, and more. Plus, you’re fostering a more inclusive and equitable world.

Ensuring CVAA Compliance with AudioEye

Companies that quickly remove accessibility barriers have a major advantage over others. They comply with accessibility guidelines and laws and can serve a wider variety of people and their needs. 

At AudioEye, we’re ready to help you meet CVAA compliance requirements. Our in-depth experience and comprehensive suite of tools help you understand your digital content’s current accessibility health and take steps to enhance it. We get started with a free accessibility scan to identify common accessibility issues before our expert human testers thoroughly audit your content to find and fix more complex accessibility barriers. The result: digital content that’s CVAA-compliant and user-friendly.

Want to learn more about media accessibility — including how closed captions came to light? Check out the latest HearSay podcast, ‘Broadcasting Accessibility with Larry Goldberg.’

Ready to create more accessible digital content? Schedule a demo with AudioEye to get started.

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