How the Communications, Video, and Technology Accessibility Act (CVTA) Could Affect the CVAA and Entertainment Industry

November 29, 2022 BY JENA WALLACE

CVAA Online Video Captioning Requirements and Deadlines [Free eBook]


On November 17, 2022, Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Representative Anna Eshoo (D-Conn.) introduced a new accessibility law in the United States: the Communications, Video, and Technology Accessibility Act (CVTA). The law, if passed, aims to make major updates to the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) and is poised to affect a slew of industries, including emerging technologies and media & entertainment. In this blog, we’ll take a closer look at the proposed changes and provide you with the key takeaways you need to know about the CVTA.

What is the Communications, Video, and Technology Accessibility Act (CVTA)?

The CVTA was introduced in an effort to make updates to the CVAA, which was passed in 2010. Currently, the CVAA does not account for the rapidly emerging and changing technologies such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and virtual reality platforms.

Along with updates to keep pace with technological advances, the CVTA will “improve and expand” both closed captioning and audio description standards while simultaneously improving access to video for d/Deaf and hard of hearing people who use sign language.

CVTA supporters include many high-profile accessibility groups and disability rights organizations, including American Council of the Blind, American Foundation for the Blind, Communication Service for the Deaf, Hearing Loss Association of America, National Association of the Deaf, National Federation of the Blind, Perkins School For The Blind, and more.

As more and more of our daily lives are conducted through communications and video technologies, truly equitable access for all people with disabilities is non-negotiable. The Communications, Video, and Technology Accessibility Act of 2022 will help ensure that more people with disabilities are able to achieve the full benefit of these critical services. Dave Power, President & CEO, the Perkins School for the Blind

How Will the CVTA Change the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA)?

When the CVAA was passed in 2010, it was designed to help ensure emerging technologies and communication channels are accessible to people with disabilities. However, according to the CVTA press release, many individuals do not have full access:

Since Congress enacted the CVAA in 2010, accessibility requirements for people with disabilities have not kept pace with changing technologies. As a result, individuals with disabilities do not have full access to many communication and video tools that are essential today. For example, the majority of video programming lacks audio descriptions for people who are blind or low vision, accuracy issues plague closed captioning on both online and televised video programming for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, video conferencing services do not have adequate functionality for people with disabilities, and deaf individuals who use sign language face significant barriers to access emergency services.

The CVAA includes Title II on closed captioning, which states that video programming that is captioned on TV must also be captioned when published on the internet. While the CVAA does not require captioning for Internet-only video content, this type of content can be covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Additionally, the CVAA includes Title II on audio description, requiring “87.5 hours per calendar quarter of video described prime time or children’s programming” for any “commercial broadcast television station is affiliated with ABC, CBS, Fox or NBC and is in the top 60 television markets and multichannel video programming distributor systems with 50,000+ subscribers.” The CVAA also applied to the top five non-broadcast networks (USA, TNT, TBS, History, and Disney Channel) as of July 2018.

The CVTA promises to update some of these major media accessibility requirements to better serve d/Deaf, hard of hearing, blind, and low vision viewers as well as empower the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to better keep pace with emerging technologies and update regulations accordingly.

Closed Captioning

Closed captioning quality standards, as set forth by the FCC, will be updated to include content that is broadcasted via the internet or streaming (not just television). Furthermore, the FCC will update quality standards every four years to “update its regulations pertaining to the quality of closed captions as necessary to reflect technological and methodological advances, to the extent deployment of such advances will improve the quality of closed captions.”

The Act also states that the FCC shall “take any action, including enforcement, necessary to ensure compliance with its regulations pertaining to the quality of closed captions,” meaning that the FCC will be empowered to enforce captioning quality standards as they see fit.

Audio Description

The CVTA will require audio description on all television programming and internet or streaming content. The Act allows the FCC to determine economically burdensome exemptions for audio description requirements.

Additionally, the CVTA will establish the following audio description quality standards:

  • Sufficiently convey key elements of the visual component”
  • “Be appropriately voiced, considering whether the use of synthetic voices is permissible and if so, under what circumstances”
  • “Be appropriately edited and encoded to ensure consistency with the editing and encoding of the non-description audio track of the programming”

Sign Language

An exciting addition to the CVTA revolves around improving access to sign language interpretation of video programming. The CVTA will enact standards for American Sign Language (ASL) when provided for video, establishing “uniform standards for the display and visibility of American Sign Language interpretation where it is provided for video programming, including standards for ensuring that an interpreter is visible on the viewer’s screen during the programming.”

Other Highlights

The CVTA includes several accessibility updates and changes that go beyond video accessibility. A few major highlights:

  • Updated manufacturing requirements so viewers can more easily activate and select preferred settings for closed captions and audio description on their video programming devices (television, smart phones, tablets, and more.)
  • Advanced communication services and video conferencing services will be required to include built-in closed captioning features, compatibility with accessible technologies like screen readers and refreshable braille displays, and ability to connect to sign language interpreters.
  • Access to ASL interpreters for 9-1-1 emergency services via telecommunication relay or direct video calling service.

Everything You Need to Know About CVAA Requirements ⭐

Where Does the FCC Factor Into the CVTA?

The FCC is one of the major entities prioritized within the CVTA, but how exactly do they factor into the Act? According to FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel:

Accessibility means equal opportunity to create, participate, and communicate—and promoting accessible technology is an important part of our agency’s mission. To do so effectively we need to keep up with emerging technologies. This legislation will help us do just that, by ensuring that people with disabilities have full access to communication products and services that are necessary to participate equally in today’s world, while laying a foundation for accessibility in future technologies.

If the Act is passed, the FCC will be given greater power to regulate the quality of media accessibility services like closed captioning and audio description, keep up with emerging technologies in the years to come, and remain aligned with disabled communities as their needs evolve.

For example, in the CVTA, the FCC will be asked to submit a report to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate and the Committee on Energy and Commerce of the House of Representatives every two years regarding complaints, subsequent actions taken, and length of time taken to resolve issues surrounding accessibility. This kind of reporting and prioritization of accessibility will help the FCC to better enforce regulations around things like the quality of closed captions and audio description, even as media and video change over time.

Why the CVTA Matters for the Media & Entertainment Industry

If passed, the CVTA will have a significant impact on many industries. In particular, content creators and producers in the media & entertainment industry will experience changes for years to come.

Should the Act pass as it is currently written, producers not including audio description as part of their deliverables to broadcast networks and streaming services will need to consider adding it in. And producers not adhering to stricter quality standards for network and streaming services may need to rethink their current captioning quality. The usage of sign language interpretation may also need to be considered going forward.

 

Read the proposed CVTA bill in its entirety here 📑

 

This blog post is written for educational and general information purposes only, and does not constitute specific legal advice. This blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

 

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