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Navigating the Accessibility Law Venn Diagram

  • Image of a street sign with three road markers facing in different directions reading Rehabilitation Act, ADA, and CVAA

    With all of the different accessibility laws in the US, it can be tough to figure out which laws apply to you.

    But what about when the laws overlap? If you’re exempt from one accessibility law, does it mean you’re exempt from all laws? And if you’re complying with one law’s requirements, is that enough to comply with all accessibility laws?

    Not necessarily. While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), and Rehabilitation Act generally affect different types of organizations and industries, there is crossover between them, and it’s possible that you could be compliant with one and not with another. It’s even possible to be exempt from one law and not from another.

    QUIZ: What Captioning Laws Apply to You?

    QUIZ: What Captioning Laws Apply to You?

    Take this quick quiz to see which laws may require you to add captions to video.

    Intersection of the ADA, CVAA, and Rehabilitation Act

    The CVAA and Sections 504 & 508 of the Rehabilitation Act are very specific about who they implicate. The CVAA only applies to online video that previously appeared on television with captions. Section 504 only applies to federal programs and programs that receive federal funding; Section 508 only applies to federal programs.

    However, it’s not quite that cut and dry: you may also have to comply with the ADA or state-specific accessibility laws.

    The ADA is a broad law that is meant to provide protection for people with disabilities in the public sector. Because of its broad reach and interpretation, the ADA applies not only to many types of organizations that are not covered by the CVAA and Rehabilitation Act, but also to organizations that are.

    For example, state and local governments may receive federal funding, but they are also implicated under Title II of the ADA. Therefore, state and local governments that receive federal funding have to comply with ADA requirements and Section 504 requirements.

    Similarly, colleges and universities that receive federal funding have to comply with Section 504 and the ADA (public universities, community colleges, and vocational schools are covered under Title II; privately-funded schools are covered under Title III).

    Venn Diagram showing an intersection between the CVAA & the ADA, as well as an intersection between the ADA & the Rehabilitation Act

    NAD vs. Netflix: A Case of Not Enough Compliance

    In the case of the National Association of the Deaf vs. Netflix, Netflix was sued for failing to comply with the ADA (despite complying with the CVAA).

    In the lawsuit, the National Association of the Deaf cited the ADA and said that most of Netflix’s streaming “watch instantly” content was not captioned. Among other points, Netflix argued that they complied with the CVAA because they captioned all of the streaming content that previously appeared on television with captions; the ADA had nothing to do with them.

    The Judge rejected this argument. In a webinar with Arlene B. Mayerson, one of the lawyers for the National Association of the Deaf, Arlene said:

    “So the question is, how do these two interact – the CVAA and the ADA? Netflix came to court and said, we comply with the CVAA, which is governed by the FCC. They should govern that whole field. The ADA really has nothing to do with it. Judge Ponsor rejected that argument. What we explained is that the CVAA only covers content that has been on television with captions, whereas the metric for the ADA is not whether something’s been on television: it’s full and equal access to whatever you’re offering – so whether it’s been on television or not is irrelevant for the ADA. The ADA is therefore broader and covers all content being offered.”

    Arlene B. Mayerson
    Watch the full webinar

    This case clarified that an organization must comply with all accessibility laws that are applicable – complying with one is not enough. In this instance, Netflix was found liable under the ADA and settled the case, agreeing to caption 100% of their streaming content. This case set several precedents, among them the extension of the ADA to the Internet and, specifically, to captioning online videos.

    Religious Entities

    Religious entities occupy a unique space in accessibility law: they are exempt from the ADA, but they are not exempt from the CVAA or FCC requirements for captioning broadcast television (as of 2011, the FCC exemption for religious broadcasters was revoked). Therefore, religious organizations that broadcast sermons or other content on TV must caption their programming despite being exempt from the ADA.

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