Accessibility Laws for Media and Entertainment
Updated: February 23, 2021
Video-on-demand is dominating the Media and Entertainment industry. When we want entertainment we can get it practically anywhere, at any time, in just a few clicks. With entertainment at our fingertips, it’s crucial to think about accessibility in this industry.
The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act was passed by Congress in 2010 as a much needed update.
Previously existing accessibility laws relating to media and entertainment were passed in the 1980s and 1990s. With the turn of the century came many rapid advances in technology, and these laws simply were not able to keep up. The CVAA protects people with disabilities by enabling them to access broadband, digital, and mobile technology – a necessity in today’s digital world.
The CVAA is made up of two parts, both of which apply to the ways in which our society consumes media and entertainment on a daily basis. The first part makes products and services using Broadband accessible to people with disabilities. This includes making smart phones usable for blind and visually impaired people, as well as deaf and hard of hearing people. The second part focuses on making it easier for people with disabilities to view video programming on television and the Internet. This includes video streaming sites that distribute TV shows online – like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu.
The FCC sets rules for closed captioning and addresses the issue of quality when it comes to captioning content. The rules apply to all television with captions, and requires that they meet the following standards:
- Accuracy: Captions must match the spoken words in the dialogue and include background noises and other ambient sounds to the best ability.
- Timing: Captions are required to be synchronized with their corresponding spoken words and sounds to the greatest extent possible. They must also be displayed at a speed that can be read by viewers.
- Completeness: Captions must run from the beginning to the end of the program to the fullest extent possible.
- Placement: Captions should not block other important visual content on the screen, overlap one another or be cut off by the edge of the screen.
The CVAA and FCC go hand-in-hand. While the FCC ruling applies specifically to television, the
FCC quality standards for television closed captioning directly impact the standard for online video as well. The CVAA requires that online video that previously aired on television have captioning “of at least the same quality as when such programs are shown on television.” Therefore, by extension, the FCC’s quality standards impact online video.
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also applies to entertainment. This law ensures that individuals are not discriminated against on the basis of disability with regards to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods and services of any place of public accommodation. In the past, “a place of public accommodation” referred to brick and mortar facilities, but recently has broadened to include online‐only businesses such as streaming services. The broadening of this term is a result of several recent lawsuits including the landmark suit of National Association of the Deaf (NAD) vs. Netflix. This particular case resulted in two major takeaways:
- Online video accessibility has become a vital business practice and a legal necessity covered by the ADA. It can no longer be ignored.
- The court’s determination that Netflix’s streaming video service is considered a “place of public accommodation” potentially extends the ADA to all organizations that publish video.
Since then, several other lawsuits have arisen regarding the accessibility of online video streaming. Amazon struck a deal with the National Association of the Deaf to ensure that their library of over 190,000 TV shows and films would get closed captioning. Although Amazon Prime Video was already fully captioned, this agreement targeted Amazon’s archive of Instant Video, as well new content to Prime Video.
In addition, Hulu reached a settlement agreement with the NAD that ensured 100% of full-length English and Spanish videos would be captioned. They also agreed that all captions on Hulu content would comply with the FCC captioning standards.
As media and entertainment continues to expand and be at our disposal, the accessibility of these products and services will have to keep up. Want to better understand what accessibility laws apply to you? Take this quiz to find out!
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