The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA)

The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA)

Last Edited October 23, 2018 by Garenne Bigby in Accessibility Testing

Though the advancements in technology are meant to be enjoyed and used by the masses, there are still members of society who could not get full access to tailor to their needs. People with special needs regarding hearing or sight were an underserved market.  In October 2010, the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) was officially signed by President Barack Obama. This act built on the foundation of the Television Decoder Circuitry Act (TDCA) of 1990. The TDCA established basic guidelines for television display devices at 13 inches or larger. Using this as a basis, the CVAA expanded into realms beyond television to all devices capable of displaying video, regardless of size. This was a necessary step as video sharing and viewing became possible through multiple devices and not just televisions.

The intended purpose of this act is to ensure that advanced communication outlets are made available to people with disabilities. These include broadband, mobile and most digital services. The act seeks to improve how persons with disabilities, like visual or hearing impairment, use communication technologies. Though the act covers many different forms of communication and creates classifications for certain types, there is an overall positive effect.

The Necessity of the CVAA

Unfortunately, when it comes to services and consumer needs, certain groups are sometimes forgotten. These groups can be separated by age, buying power or physical characteristics. Social media is a driving force in the modern day. It relies on information being shared via messages or links. These can be pictures or even clips of videos. For them to function, the recipient must not only be able to receive the content but also view it. If the content relies on auditory function, the receiver must have a way to hear it, as well. Even news outlets now rely on digital content sharing.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has acknowledged that there are groups of people who forego using digital content because of the difficulty surrounding it. These people typically have a disability that makes understanding or getting content harder. Their reluctance to use digital services and the internet is a result of the many barriers surrounding technological use. This is why The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act is needed. Rather than just generalizing that communications need to be made accessible, it lists specific areas and specific machines where content should be accessible for all peoples.

CVAA Specifications for Content Delivery

Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act covers most popular methods of digital and internet content delivery. Under the act’s Title I section regarding communication access, there is a list of products and services that must be up to standard for use. These include web-based and mobile services like email, text messaging and several other products that connect to the Internet.  This broad category covers static content that is meant to be viewed or read.

Laptops and smartphones are not the only devices covered under the CVAA. The act calls for increased accessibility in both software and gaming consoles that are able to connect to the Internet. Title II focuses on the delivery of moving content, meaning videos and clips. It also covers the means to acquire videos via recording services and software. Also included under Title II is the regulation for online streaming accessibility and video distribution. Furthermore, for those with impairments, closed captions should be an easily found option.

Closed captioning is defined as the written transcription of narration, dialogue and other in-scene sounds (i.e., coughing, screaming or a car starting) that are needed to fully comprehend the events in the video. On tangible video recording devices (phone, cameras, etc.), the video equipment must present user controls via buttons or iconography that is tailored to auditory and visual disabilities. A notable effect of Title II specifically is captions overlaying digital videos that have a description of the contents before playing. Both of these sections combined allow people to have better opportunity to make use of digital content.

Operating Under the CVAA

To the masses, it might seem as though these stipulations of digital content presentation (closed captioning, video descriptions, etc.) are standard practice. Unfortunately, this is not true. However, there are ways to observe and verify if a video provider is complying with the CVAA. Closed captioning options are one of the milestone highlights of the CVAA. The act even covers live events (like sports, concerts, or news) and television programming, requiring that captioning must be applied to the video overlay within a certain time.

Additionally, if the same content was streamed via television, once uploaded to a digital platform, it must also contain the closed captioning. For areas that are not yet covered by the CVAA, there is protection via the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is meant to protect all American citizens from any form of discrimination that uses their disability as grounds.  This law requires that any service being offered to the public must be equally available and accessible to all people.

Not complying with either the CVAA or ADA could be considered breaking the law. Private companies and workplaces are not exempted from either the CVAA or ADA. Companies must provide for equal content distribution for all of its employees regardless of any known disabilities. In that same way, as online and digital learning becomes a more popular option, schools and universities must monitor their distributed content. This can be a range of content that includes not only textbook materials but also any video or audio lectures or exams. Not only must it be accessible to all students, but the content must also be functional for any students with disabilities.

Removing Video Content Barriers

With the ease of use of not only sharing but also recording videos, it has become the go-to for many procedures. There are educational videos at all grade levels, including university. Entertainment and social content are also produced in video format. Even the workplace is not free of videos as they are often used for instructional training, meetings, and even interviews. Though it has been a part of the contemporary culture for a while, even the way public safety information, news, and traffic is shared via video has changed in the last few years. It has become more interactive—for those who have access to it.

Hearing impairment can impact people even if only temporary. Trying to hear over a large crowd or simply being too far away from the audio source or the volume being set low can make it difficult to get the information. For these situations, closed captioning is a great way to keep the information accessible. Closed captioning is only one of the ways barriers have been lessened and it still only addresses one group.

For those with vision problems, closed captioning is not the answer. To address that problem, there has been the implementation of audio description voiceovers. The narration seeks to explain in quick detail what is happening to those who are unable to view it. The removal of content barriers is dependent mainly on accepting that every possible viewer or receiver of the content is able-bodied and completely free of any hearing or visual hindrance. Removing these barriers means that a wider audience can both experience and enjoy the content.

Internet Barriers

Getting internet content changed to make it more accessible can be difficult before the process of content sharing even begins. This is because there are products and services used to connect to the internet that can be hard to use. The CVAA dictates that any and all providers of any internet service (ISP) must make the act of getting online available to the masses. Even if the ISP is partnered with a third-party assistive technology firm, the ISP must support the third-party without additional and inflated cost or difficulty in function to the user.  Though it can be difficult, it is strongly recommended by the FCC that internet providers use third-party assistive technology to meet the needs of all of their customers.

Collective Accessibility

The concept of collective accessibility is making a product or service available for use by many different people. Within the CVAA, there is a clause referred to as universal service. Universal service makes a distinction that spotlights consumers with disabilities being not only included in services options but specifically catered to. This is a two-part process that requires the use of the FCC guidelines regarding program and content distribution. The FCC can label products under the umbrella of phone communication and regulate them thusly.

Rather than creating completely new programs, the FCC can call for adjustments to existing life support services to better serve customers with disabilities. The other part of universal service allows the FCC to monitor and distribute the equipment used in creating internet-based communications and other telecommunication for disabled consumers. This part of the CVAA has an annual allocation of $10 million meant to distribute specialized disabled-friendly equipment to those who also fall into low-income status. These distinctions are meant to better serve those with hearing or visual disabilities or a combination thereof.

Video Requirements

Having closed captioning is not the only requirement by the CVAA regarding better video programming accessibility. There is also a built-in option of when and how to submit a request to the FCC in order be exempted from the closed captioning condition. Beyond that, there is a requisite that emergency information must be shared in multiple methods in order to reach all members of the population, disabled or not. For example, a severe storm warning may include a loud beeping or siren, but there will also be text on the screen describing the conditions of the storm in terms of time, place and severity.

There is also a possibility to make use of colors to communicate for those who are unable to read or see the text. Recording devices must also feature options for closed captioning, including detailed options that allow the user to not only turn them on or off, but also increase or decrease the size and change the color (and sometimes even the font). One of the more common CVAA conditions that may be considered a normal option is the presence of an on-screen text menu and subsequent program guides.

These visuals make navigating a video screen easier, even for those without disabilities. The designs need to be clearly marked with keys and buttons that are directly related to the function. They also need to include a clearly reached method to activate or shut off closed captions.

Accessible UI

The user interface is how technology users experience their devices. This can be condensed on a touch screen like a mobile device or the raised buttons on a remote. For those with disabilities, the CVAA provides a stipulation that devices being used to transmit or receive video programming, internet-based or otherwise, must have complete and whole function and usability. This means that hearing or visual impairment should not lessen their ability to use the device to its full capacity. In order to ensure this, the devices must allow for volume control, powering on and off, and other specific programming choices.

There are also auditory aspects that must be met. Having an on-screen textual menu is mandatory but so is an automatic audio-output function that describes the options. The audio output on the screen guide should be comparable to the other text functions that control the video. Remote controls should also be usable by those with visual disabilities, and the option for closed captioning should be readily available on the surface.

FCC Content Availability Regulation

Within the CVAA is a sort of checklist that can assist the FCC and consumers in verifying whether all the conditions of the CVAA are met. It can also be used to help solve disputes regarding consumer dissatisfaction or an inability for complete use. To proceed, there is a three-part inquiry that the FCC must perform. Firstly, the FCC must identify the needed software and accompanying formats necessary for video transmission that will facilitate internet-based video programming and closed captions. This includes wireless broadcasts and the methods of communicating emergency information to those with a variety of disabilities.

Secondly, the FCC has to determine what steps are needed to reconfigure devices and other user interfaces to meet the needs of visual and auditory impairment. This can mean both editing and upgrading existing equipment or calling for the development of newer and overhauled devices. The FCC checks these parts for functionality and ease of use. Using the devices should not be hindered by visual impairment or blindness in such a way that the user cannot perform basic controls like turning the device on, choosing what to watch or listen to or controlling sound levels.

Lastly, the third inquiry revolves around on-screen menus of video programming. The priority of this inquiry is to find methods to increase the accessibility of programming menus in real-time.

Emergency Communication Protection

While videos, audio and visual communication are used for entertainment or socialization purposes, there is also a great need for these features to be accessible in times of crisis. The CVAA requires that through the internet or digital communication methods, there must be a way for those with disabilities to seek help. Disabilities in hearing or speech should not be a barrier against using tools of communication. This portion of the CVAA means to equalize text-based and non-verbal communication for disabled people, ensuring the ease of use, transmission, and access to their non-disabled counterparts. This emergency protection is not restricted only to private networks. It is needed across public communication avenues as a way to make sure every person is able to get assistance.

Final Words

Video programming has become a staple of how people get their information and entertainment. While many still rely on television programming, there is also the option to use the internet to fulfill these needs. The internet has become a useful and go-to tool for many people. Whether it’s checking a recipe or verifying information quickly, the easy access of it makes it the preferred choice for many. However, there are people who do not use the internet because of barriers to not only accessing internet services but also barriers to understanding the content. These people may have any number of disabilities, including hearing or visual impairments that make it difficult to see or hear the content presented.

These difficulties can create frustration and as such, these people may choose to not use the internet whatsoever. Disabilities are not only confined to a certain age bracket. Visual and hearing impairment can happen at the beginning of life or later and despite this, those with the conditions should still be able to enjoy life as any able-bodied person. Though they may need certain special adjustments, people with disabilities are a market that should not be ignored. The CVAA provide inclusivity and allows them to be offered the same levels of service. The CVAA covers streaming videos as well as non-moving content in order to best serve the needs of all people.

Garenne Bigby
Author: Garenne BigbyWebsite: http://garennebigby.com
Founder @dynomapper
Garenne Bigby is freelance Chicago developer and founder of DYNO Mapper with over 10 years experience in both agency and freelance roles in design, development, user experience, SEO, and information architecture.

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