The CVAA Explained

Introduction to the CVAA

On October 8, 2010, President Obama signed the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) into law. The mission of the CVAA was to update accessibility laws from the 1980s and 90s and make them current with today's technology. CVAA promotes equitable use for people with disabilities and strives to ensure equal access to communication services and video programming. CVAA has been broken into two categories, Title I and Title II.

Title I of the CVAA

Title I of the CVAA focuses on the accessibility of communication.

The CVAA requires that web browsers on mobile devices be accessible to people who have visual impairments, including people who are blind. Under CVAA, advanced communications services and products (i.e. interconnected and non-interconnected voice over IP, interoperable video conferencing, and electronic messaging services) must be accessible to people with disabilities. This includes, for example, video communications, e-mail, text and instant messaging.

The CVAA has added and updated pre-existing definitions in the industry to comply with current technological capabilities. Another component of CVAA, the Hearing Aid Compatibility Mandate, has been applied to advanced communication services, including "telephone-like equipment." To summarize, the Hearing Aid Compatibility Mandate requires that certain devices be hearing-aid compliant; this includes wireless headphones and telephones in the workplace and in the public, as well as emergency phones. The definition of Telecommunication Relay Service was also updated to include people who are deaf-blind and to acknowledge and allow different type of relay users to communicate.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been authorized under the CVAA to make sure that 9-1-1 services will be 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 will be able to contact emergency services.

Under Title I of CVAA, the FCC created an Accessibility Clearinghouse to provide and make available information on accessible equipment and services for people with disabilities and to have a record-keeping system in place for the industry.

Title II of the CVAA

Title II of the CVAA focuses on the accessibility of video programming, which has a direct baring on website accessibility for individuals with disabilities.

See how CVAA compares to WCAG 2.0

As an initial component, Title II focuses on the FCC under the Consumer and Government Affairs Bureau. The CVAA reinstates rules that the FCC made in the early 2000's about video descriptions. The FCC had previously issued a rule requiring Multichannel Video Programming Distributors (MVPD) and broadcasters to carry television programming that includes video descriptions. Taking its lead from and building upon this prior ruling, the Law states that certain MVPDs and broadcasters have to provide the specified 50 hours of programming with video description during primetime for each calendar quarter.

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, smart phones, tablets and laptops that have the capability of displaying television programming. To follow suite, the law also requires that cables connecting televisions to source devices must be able to carry (or transmit) emergency and closed captioning information.

If nothing else, know this about CVAA

If a television program is closed captioned on a television set or other device, it must also be closed captioned when uploaded or distributed on the internet, but not vice versa.

If a video is only on the internet, or it is a public, educational, and government access television channel, the requirement does not apply.

NOTE: WCAG 2.0 goes much further. In order to conform to WCAG 2.0 Level A Success Criteria (SC) 1.2.2. Captions (Prerecorded), business and organizations must provide captioning for ALL pre-recorded video content and, per Level AA SC 1.2.4 Captions (Live), all live video content.

Learn more about WCAG 2.0 requirements for Time-based Media

To have access to closed captioning or video description, controls for the television and other devices must have a way to turn on or off closed captioning.

The emergency information that is communicated to the user must be accessible to everyone, including people with visual impairments. For example, if the device only displays the emergency information through closed captioning, it would not be accessible to people who are unable to read the closed captioning.

The FCC has implemented the CVAA by creating a new process for filing complaints pursuant to the requirements. If there is an accessibility problem that is found with telephone equipment and services, advanced communications equipment and services, and mobile phones' built in browsers, consumers may report their issue to the FCC via the FCC Consumer Help Center.

To file a complaint or ask a question go to the FCC Consumer Help Center, which is AudioEye enabled.

Key Terms and Definitions

Listed below are definitions of key words related to or used within the CVAA. All definitions are defined by the CVAA (Public Law 111-260), unless stated otherwise.

Title I Definitions
  • Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP): technology that allows you to make voice calls using a broadband Internet connection instead of a regular (or analog) phone line.
  • Interconnected Voice Over Internet Protocol: A VoIP service that is connected to a public telephone network.
  • Non-Interconnected Voice Over Internet Protocol: A VoIP service that is NOT connected to a public telephone network.
  • Electronic Messaging: text and instant messaging.
  • Interoperable Video Conferencing: real-time video communications, including audio, to enable users to share information.
  • Telecommunication Relay Services: A free service that enables persons with TTYs, individuals who use sign language and people who have speech disabilities to use telephone services by having a third party transmit and translate the call.
Title II Definitions
  • Video Description: An audio narration for television viewers who are blind or visually disabled, which consists of verbal descriptions of key visual elements in a television program, such as settings and actions not reflected in dialog. Narrations are inserted into the program’s natural pauses, and are typically provided through the Secondary Audio Programming channel.
  • Closed Captioning: A service for persons with hearing disabilities that translates television program dialog into written words on the television screen.

Source Articles

FCC Disability Rights Office

FCC's Guide on the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act

Federal Communications Commission, Video Description: Implementation of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 201 Report and Order [PDF]

Kaely Wang

Read more posts by this author.

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