Did You Know? Audio Description Is Required by Law

December 11, 2018 BY ELISA EDELBERG
Updated: January 14, 2020

We know that it’s hard to keep up with the ever-changing accessibility laws and how they apply to rapidly evolving technology and media. But just because it’s hard to keep up, doesn’t mean that you’re exempt from providing the necessary accommodations. As accessibility professionals, and as educators in the industry, something that we hear all the time is, “We don’t need audio description because we haven’t had any blind or low vision students request it.” We’re not sure we can bear to give you the news, so we’ve decided to let the captions and audio description speak for themselves in this cartoon:

A cartoon. CC cartoon says to AD cartoon: "Hi, AD. How are you doing? Rumor has it you are not required on videos." Then the AD cartoon replies: "Actually, I am! I'm required under the same accessibility laws that you are. Now that Section 508 references WCAG 2.0 standards I'm written directly into the law! That's right, CC, it's time for AD to share the spotlight!"

Yup, that’s right. Many people are not aware that audio description is likely a legal requirement – request or not – depending on the industry, and the type of content that is produced. We’ll break it down by industry.

Fact: Audio description is required under The Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act

Government Organizations

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires federal communications and information technology to be made accessible. Under the Section 508 Refresh – phased in in early 2018 – all government organizations are now legally required to provide audio description… even without a request.

Yes, that’s right. The Section 508 refresh references the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 success criterion to each existing section of the 508 Standards, requiring both captions and audio descriptions for content that falls under Section 508.

Media and Entertainment

In October 2010, Barack Obama signed the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) into effect, requiring that modern communications technologies be made accessible to all people regardless of vision and/or hearing loss. The CVAA started phasing-in audio description requirements for broadcast TV in 2010, with the anticipation of having 100% of television programming described by 2020. The specific rules on video description required that many of the top TV networks each provide 50 hours of video-described prime time or children’s programming per calendar quarter by 2012. On July 1, 2015, the 50 hours per week requirement expanded to the top 60 TV markets, and on July 1, 2018, that increased to 87.5 hours of video description per calendar quarter.

In addition to the CVAA, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has two parts that apply to video accessibility. Title II of the ADA requires audio description for public entities, and Title III requires description for places of public accommodation, including private organizations that provide a public accommodation. This includes streaming media sites, such as Hulu and Netflix.


Title II and Title III of the ADA also apply to enterprise organizations. The ADA requires that training videos, as well as public website videos, be accessible to all individuals and therefore contain audio description. Failure to comply has resulted in several corporate lawsuits including one with FedEx.

Myth: You don't need to add audio description to your videos unless you receive an accommodation request.

Higher Education

Meeting accessibility requirements is a major factor in providing audio description in higher education. Audio description is required under many of the same laws requiring captions. Over the years several institutions have had lawsuits filed against them for failing to meet accessibility requirements. Complying with accessibility laws from the get-go can prevent potential legal problems down the road.

Prive and public colleges that receive federal funding must comply with the Rehabilitation Act. Colleges which receive state funding must be sure to comply with local state laws. All colleges provide a public accommodation and must comply with the ADA. Therefore, institutions of higher education must provide audio description on their videos – with or without a request!

How to Get in Compliance

Take the Quiz!

So we aren’t telling you this just to scare you. We told you so you can get in compliance, provide accessible content, and avoid legal action! There are 253 million people living with vision impairment who are waiting for you to take the next step.

Take the short quiz below to find out if you’re required to add audio description to your videos. Whether you’re already captioning with us or not, it’s super easy to get started with audio description today!


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