Ten years ago, on October 8th, 2010, President Barack Obama signed the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) into law, pushing forward another groundbreaking step in the realm of media and digital accessibility. The CVAA contains many telecommunications protections to enable people with disabilities to access broadband, digital and mobile innovations. In a world with rapidly progressing technological capabilities, it was vital that accessibility laws enacted in the 80s and 90s were modernized for 21st century digital communication and media.
For starters, Title I of the CVAA requires that advanced communications services and products are accessible to people with disabilities. This includes services and products like text messaging, email, video chatting, and internet calling. With the ubiquity of smartphones, the CVAA also required that access to browsers on mobile devices is available to blind and low-vision users. The advent of these new requirements also brought forth changes within the FCC, creating a clearinghouse on accessible communications services and equipment and creating new compliance procedures, recordkeeping systems, and regular reporting by the FCC.
Title II of the CVAA is focused on accessibility for video programming. One of the biggest changes involves the restoration of audio description guidelines that were initially rolled out by the FCC in 2000 while promoting expansion over the next decade. The other major change outlined in the CVAA requires any program that is captioned for over the air broadcasts to be closed captioned when delivered over the internet; however, this does not cover internet-only content. It also updated equipment requirements for encoders and programming equipment to enable closed captions on devices with screens smaller than 13 inches. Additionally, television set remote controls were now required to have buttons to turn on/off closed captions and audio description for shows, in text menus, and in program guides. Emergency information also became much more accessible under the CVAA, adding provisions that allow blind and low-vision consumers to receive the full context of emergency bulletins.
Media accessibility has come a long way, between the publishing of other important accessibility laws and guidelines such as Section 508 and the ADA. Under the CVAA, media accessibility fully entered the digital realm by updating requirements in sync with modern day technology, while adding provisions to help keep digital media accessible going forward.