Which Web Accessibility & Closed Captioning Laws Apply to You? (QUIZ)
Updated: July 12, 2018
Suspect you might be legally required to closed caption your online videos?
Knowing which web accessibility laws can help you better understand what accommodations you should be providing.
In the US, there are five major web accessibility laws:
- The Rehabilitation Act
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA)
- The Federal Communications Commissions (FCC)
- State laws
The application of the laws varies by industry and type of content that you publish.
Most laws affect one of the following industries:
- K-12 School
- Higher Education
- Online Learning or Continuing Education
- Film & TV Producer
- Online Video
- Religious Broadcaster
- Private Company
Let’s break them down!
Web Accessibility laws and Closed Captioning by Industry
This includes both public and private schools.
Federal laws in the United States require public and private K-12 schools to provide captioning to students. However, there is some variation on which laws apply to public and private K-12 schools. Public schools must abide by Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Americans with Disabilities Act Title II, Section 504 and Section 508 (if the school receives federal funding through the Assistive Technology Act), and state laws. Private schools must comply with the ADA Title III, Section 504 (if the school receives federal funding), and state laws. If a private K-12 school receives state funding that is provided from federal funding through the Assistive Technology Act, then that private school must also comply with Section 508.
Helpful resources for K-12 schools:
This includes both public and private schools.
Federal laws in the United States, like the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA, require institutions of higher education to caption their content. Several institutions of higher education have been sued for failing to caption their content and for having inaccurate captions.
Note: Under the Rehabilitation Act, Section 504 and Section 508 apply to higher education. If a private institution receives federal funding, they must comply with Section 504 and, depending on the grant requirements they receive, they must also comply with Section 508.
State laws may also require institutions has to caption.
Captioning laws apply to lecture capture videos, videos shown in class, public-facing videos, and online courses. If a school receives an accommodation request, they must also provide captioning.
Helpful resources for higher education:
- Roadmap to Web Accessibility in Higher Education
- 5 Universities Doing Captioning Right
- Captioning and Transcription for Community Colleges
- Accessibility Laws for Private Colleges
Online Learning or Continuing Education
This includes private companies that publish eLearning content or serve online courses to a student body or members of the public. Classes can be free or paid.
Examples: Pearson, edX, ect.
Federal laws in the United States, like the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), require online learning institutions to caption their content.
Under the ADA, Title III states the places of public accommodation must not discriminate against people with disabilities.
Since the ADA was written before the proliferation of the internet, it does not specifically mention websites. However, numerous court cases involving the ADA have agreed that websites are places of public accommodation and therefore should be accessible.
Online learning or continuing education institutions that receive federal funding must also comply with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Lastly, online learning institutions may also be required to comply with Section 508 if the state they are located in has a “mini 508” clause requiring compliance with WCAG 2.0 Level A and AA.
Helpful resources for online learning:
- Accessibility Laws for Online Learning Content
- EdX’s Best Practices for Developing Accessible Online Course Content
- 5 MOOC Platforms Doing Captioning Right
This includes Federal, state, or municipal government agencies, departments, offices, or organizations.
Examples: public library, national park, governor’s office, etc.
Federal laws in the United States, like the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA, require government entities to caption their content.
Section 504 and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act required government entities to make their content accessible.
Note: Section 508 applies specifically to the federal government, but if a state receives federal funding or has a “mini 508” law in place then state governments must also comply.
Title II of the ADA relates to web accessibility for state and local entities. Title II mandates that public entities cannot refuse to accommodate people with disabilities and must provide the necessary aids for such individuals to have equal access.
Helpful resources for Government:
- Accessibility Laws for State Governments
- Accessibility Laws for Local Government
- 5 Municipalities Doing Captioning Right
Film & TV Producer
This includes producers or distributors of video content for film, broadcast TV, or digital distribution.
Examples: cable channel, film studio, Hulu, etc.
Any content broadcast on television must be captioned. The FCC has certain captioning standards that broadcasters must comply with including accuracy and unobstructed placement. Live broadcasted content must also be captioned.
Under the CVAA, any content that was previously published on television must be captioned when published online. This also applies to video clips and montages.
Streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, must caption all content that was previously aired on television.
Title III of the ADA relates to private entities. Under the ADA, online streaming companies must also caption original content, even if it never appeared on television (like Netflix’s Stranger Things).
Helpful resources for film & TV producers:
- Accessibility Laws for Media and Entertainment
- Captioning and Transcription for Streaming Media Distributors
- Closed Captioning Best Practices for Media & Entertainment
This includes producer, publisher, or distributor of online video that is not intended for film or TV.
Examples: vloggers, YouTubers, web series producers, etc.
If an online video producer creates content that previously aired on television and/or produces video clips or mashups of full-length programs that previously aired on television, then they are required to caption them under the FCC and CVAA.
If your video content has never aired on television (like a vlog on YouTube), then the CVAA does not apply to you.
Helpful resources for online videos:
- Beginner’s Guide to Captioning
- Video Accessibility Checklist
- [Infographic] How Accessible Content Can Reach A Wider Audience
This includes houses of worship or spiritual institutions that produce video.
Examples: televangelists, broadcast church services, digital Sunday school instruction, etc.
Federal laws in the United States, like the Rehabilitation Act, FCC, and CVAA, require religious broadcasters to caption their video.
Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, religious broadcasters are required to make their content accessible if they receive financial assistance from the federal government. Financial assistance includes both monetary funds and non-monetary funds like donation items, services, or free or discounted use of government space or property.
Under the FCC, any content that is broadcasted on television must be captioned – whether recorded or live content. If that content is then published online, then the religious institution is also required to provide captions.
State laws may also affect religious broadcasters, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with your state’s requirements.
Helpful resources for religious broadcasters:
This applies to for-profit or non-profit organization that is privately owned and produces video for internal or for external use.
Examples: company training videos, recruitment videos, promotional videos, etc.
The ADA requires private companies to caption their content. This includes public-facing videos, training videos, video tutorials, and video used for internal communications.
In 2014, FedEx was sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commision (EEOC) for violating the ADA by failing to caption their company training videos.
Company training videos must be accessible as required under the Americans with Disabilities Act Title I and Title II. Title I of the ADA prohibits employers and government agencies from discriminating against qualified individuals on the basis of a disability. Title II mandates that public entities cannot refuse to accommodate people with disabilities and must provide the necessary aids for such individuals to have equal access.
Helpful resources for private companies:
- How to Make Corporate Videos Accessible
- Accessibility Laws for Company Training Videos
- Accessibility Laws for Public Websites
If no laws apply, should you still caption?
It’s always best practice to make your content accessible. Many people who do not have a disability actually benefit from web accessibility features like captions.
Captions have been proven to improve brand recall, verbal memory, and behavioral intent.
Captions also give your viewers the flexibility to view your videos when they don’t have headphones or can’t turn the volume up.
Most importantly though, captions make your content accessible.
You never know who is watching your videos. As a result, it’s best practice to always make your videos accessible for everyone.
This post was originally published on June 27, 2016 by Emily Griffin and has since been updated.
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