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CVAA Compliance: The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act


The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) was signed into law in 2010. The act was written to ensure that people with disabilities would have equal access to “advanced” communications – namely, digital, broadband and mobile products and services. The CVAA specifies how and where these technologies must be made accessible to people with disabilities such as deafness and blindness.

CVAA compliance

Under the CVAA, several different types of services and products are considered “advanced” communications. These are grouped under Title I (“Communications Access”) – products and services that connect to the Internet, such as email and text messaging services, web-based services and mobile devices – and Title II (“Video Programming”), products and services involved in the delivery of videos, such as television recording devices, video distributors and online streaming services.

Title I of the CVAA states that laptops, smartphones, tablets, software applications and even gaming consoles that connect to the Internet must be usable by and accessible to people with disabilities. Title II states that video equipment must be capable of displaying closed captioning and video description, and that user controls must be accessible to people with vision and hearing disabilities. It also sets out requirements for closed captioning and audio description of videos.

Why Advanced Communications Need to Be Accessible

Today, it’s an everyday occurrence to watch a movie online, interact with a company’s website, communicate by video, or use a smartphone to check the news.

According to research by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), people are less likely to go online if they have a disability. That’s partly, says the FCC, because of the barriers these individuals encounter while trying to use the Internet. A study conducted last year by the Pew Research Center1 showed that people with disabilities are about three times more likely than those without disabilities to say they never use the Internet.

When barriers to technology are reduced, or eliminated, however, it means that people with disabilities can engage with products and services like everyone else.

Removing Barriers to Using the Internet

Under Title I of the CVAA, any providers of technology, whether it’s a product or a service, must ensure the technology is accessible if it connects to the Internet – or that third-party assistive technology (AT) is made easily available and supported. This third-party AT can’t be costly for the consumer, however. It’s also prohibited to add features or functions to a product or service that could make it more difficult for people with disabilities to use the technology.

This doesn’t apply only to manufacturers. Any company that provides an app or a service over the Internet is considered a “provider of advanced communications services” and is obligated under the CVAA to ensure that the app or service is barrier-free.

How can the removal of barriers be assured? The FCC recommends that if a company does rely on third-party AT to meet accessibility-related needs, it should ensure that people with disabilities themselves are involved in the consultation. They are in the best position to assess whether the technology is usable and functional.

Removing Barriers in Video

Video is an increasingly popular way to communicate and convey information. It’s a component of virtual business meetings, marketing, education, socializing and entertainment. It’s also used in the distribution of news and public safety information. If videos aren’t accessible, however, then they’re shutting people out.

One frequent barrier emphasized in the CVAA is a lack of closed captioning. Closed captioning is a visual display (e.g. a written transcription) of the dialogue, narration and other relevant sounds, such as a knock at the door, that are essential to understanding the video. Closed captioning is a necessity for many people who are deaf.

Closed captioning, incidentally, has many more applications than increasing accessibility to people with disabilities. It allows patrons in a noisy bar to follow the sports or news. It also enables people in a quiet place, such as a waiting room, to watch TV without disturbing others. In fact, several studies around the world, such as one by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network2, show that a significant number of people who use captions when viewing digital videos have no hearing disability at all.

Another type of accessibility barrier is a lack of video description for people who are blind. Video description is an audio narration of the visual components of the video. Whenever there are pauses in the video’s dialogue, a voiceover gives descriptions of what is happening visually.

The FCC notes that over 60 million Americans have a significant vision disability or some degree of deafness. For people with disabilities like these, the removal of video barriers is essential to equal participation in society.

Complying with the CVAA

The CVAA lists the ways that videos are to be made accessible on the Internet. For example, any programming that is captioned on television must also be captioned when it’s streamed online. And as of July 1, 2017, any Internet video clips of “live and near-live” television programming – such as sports events and news – must have captioning within a certain time frame.

Although the CVAA does not apply to all online videos at this time, it is expected that this will continue to change as more and more video content is broadcast online only, without going to television first.

Even so, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) continues to protect disability rights in situations where the CVAA does not yet apply. That’s because the ADA prohibits any kind of discrimination against people with disabilities. Under this law, any product or service offered to the public or in a workplace must be equally available to people who have disabilities. Thus, any company or organization that isn’t ensuring the web-based services it provides, or the videos it streams, are accessible could be breaking the law.

Just last year, the U.S. Department of Justice responded to a complaint by the National Association of the Deaf alleging that the University of Berkeley was in violation of Title II of the ADA3. The Department of Justice proceeded to investigate the university’s online course material, and subsequently instructed the University of Berkeley, in no uncertain terms, to remove barriers from videos and other website components such as inaccessible PDF documents.

It’s Time to Eliminate Barriers

In many ways, human rights legislation is catching up to advancing technology. Companies that move quickly to eliminate barriers from their digital properties will be in an advantageous position – ahead of the curve. Not only will they be in compliance with current and future accessibility laws and rulings, they’ll also benefit from serving a wider variety of people and needs. The number of people with disabilities is growing, not shrinking, as baby boomers age. This target market group isn’t going away anytime soon.

An Innovative Solution

eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY has developed a comprehensive accessibility solution to help organizations follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and achieve and maintain compliance with standards and regulations, such as the CVAA. This includes integrating web compliance evaluation services with assistive technology to deliver a transformative experience for people with disabilities. Learn more about eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY’s innovative solution.


  1. Pew Research Center Pew Research Center, 2017.
  2. Australian Communications Consumer Action Network Media Access Australia, 2011.
  3. University of Berkeley was in violation of Title II of the ADA Department of Justice, 2016.

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