This page covers US federal accessibility laws, US state accessibility laws, and international accessibility laws.
The ADA is a broad, anti-discrimination law for people with disabilities. Titles II and III of the ADA affect web accessibility and closed captioning.
Title II prohibits disability discrimination by all public entities at the local and state level. Governmental organizations must ensure “effective communication” with citizens, including providing assistive technology or services as needed.
Title III prohibits disability discrimination by “places of public accommodation.” A place of public accommodation covers shared or public entities like libraries, universities, hotels, museums, theaters, transportation services, etc., that are privately owned. Video displayed within or distributed by such places must be captioned.
Both Title II and Title III offer a disclaimer about instances where such accommodation would create an “undue hardship” for the organization. This is often the crux of arguments in ADA lawsuits about whether or not an organization must provide closed captioning. Another point of contention is whether or not a purely online business can be considered a “place of public accommodation.”
Whom this law applies to:
Municipal and state offices and facilities; museums; libraries; schools, colleges & universities; theaters & cinemas; convention centers & arenas; train stations & airports; hotels; parks; hospitals and clinics; pharmacies; restaurants; retail stores & malls; day care facilities; potentially, online services or products that are made publicly available.
Section 508 & Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires electronic communications and information technologies, such as websites, email, or web documents, be accessible. For video content, closed captions are a specific requirement.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act protects the civil rights of people with disabilities by requiring all federal entities — and organizations that receive federal funding — to make accommodations for equal access. This means that closed captioning must be provided for users who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Whom this law applies to:
US federal offices and all their digital or physical services and communications; organizations that receive federal funding; universities or colleges that receive federal grants.
FCC Closed Captioning Regulations
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates all interstate and international communications via television, radio, and the internet in the United States of America. An independent government agency overseen by Congress, the FCC sets strict guidelines for closed captioning television programs and live broadcasts, with specific standards on caption accuracy, timing, placement, and completeness. The FCC is the federal agency responsible for implementing and enforcing these laws and regulations regarding U.S. communications.
While analog broadcasters have had to caption their video content for some time, video broadcasters using the Internet are now also being affected by FCC rules and regulations.
Whom this law applies to:
Television broadcasters in the U.S.; television content producers; online or analog content distributors; film producers and distributors in the US.
21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA)
Signed into law in 2010, the CVAA updates federal communications law to “increase the access of persons with disabilities to modern communications,” and specifically address closed captioning for online video (particularly that which has previously aired on U.S. television with closed captions originally). This content must comply with analog FCC closed captioning regulations, including quality standards for timing, placement, accuracy, and completeness.
The CVAA applies to web video streaming sites that distribute TV shows online, as well as media sites that include movie trailers, clips, and montages. Compliance benchmarks were established with rolling deadlines.
Whom this law applies to:
Websites that stream or offer downloadable video previously aired on American television with captions (in English or Spanish).
Many states have adopted Section 508 federal regulations into their own laws (“little 508s”), requiring state government entities to comply with federal accessibility standards. Some states created their own accessibility laws based on Section 508 or other standards.
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)
The AODA is the most progressive accessibility law in the world and sets accessibility requirements for organizations in Ontario, Canada with the aim of creating a universally accessible province by 2025.
The AODA regulates accessibility standards across government, public, and private sectors, with requirements affecting five different areas of business: customer service, employment, information and communications, transportation, and design of public spaces. The AODA categorizes businesses by size and ownership (public or private), with slightly different rules for each.
Under the AODA, all large private and non-profit organizations with 50 or more employees and all public sector organizations are required to make their websites accessible. The AODA mandates that web content and online video must conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA success criteria with two exceptions: criteria 1.2.4 (live captions) and criteria 1.2.5 (audio descriptions).
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)
In 2007, Canada’s broadcast industry established two working groups under the direction of the CRTC. The goal of these working groups was to develop closed captioning standards that would ensure consistent and reliable quality throughout the Canadian broadcasting system. The CRTC formed several policies based on these groups that would address captioning quality and quantity, as well as a system to monitor captioning and a way for the public to file complaints.
The CRTC requires most broadcasters to caption 100% of their programs during a broadcast day, which is defined as the hours between 6 am and midnight. They must additionally ensure that 100% of advertising, sponsorship messages, and promotional content is captioned. Finally, they must provide viewers with closed captioning – if captions are available – for all programming aired overnight (from midnight to 6 am).
To establish quality standards and measure accuracy, the CRTC refers to the Canadian NER model. Broadcasters of pre-recorded programs should target 100% accuracy, while live programming requirements are more forgiving – French-language content should target 85% accuracy, while English-language content should target 98% accuracy. The primary difference in standards for French- and English-speaking Canadian audiences is largely due to the captioning techniques employed by and/or available to each market.
The Equality Act (EQA)
The EQA consolidated 116+ anti-discrimination laws into a single bill that protects individuals’ civil rights regardless of gender, sex, age, religion, political affiliation, disability, marital status, or sexual orientation. Employers are required to make “reasonable adjustments” to accommodate people with disabilities. Accessibility requirements such as closed captioning videos extend to public entities and universities, as well.
British National Standard 8878
BS 8878 is a national standard that set accessibility recommendations for all electronic products, services, and information. It outlines an actionable accessibility strategy and provides templates for writing your organization’s accessibility policy statement.
Similar to the FCC in America, Ofcom regulates British telecommunications and broadcast media. It is responsible for setting standards, rules, and deadlines for closed captioning in the UK. The Ofcom Code on Television Access Services sets a schedule of accessibility compliance for broadcasters with annual deadlines spread over 10 years. By the end of the 10th year, at least 80% of the broadcaster’s content must have subtitles.
Communications Act of 2003
The Communications Act of 2003 granted Ofcom full regulatory authority of telecommunications and broadcast media in the UK. In addition to other major rule changes, the Communications Act increased requirements for UK broadcasters to provide ‘television access services,’ like subtitling, sign language, and audio descriptions. Section 303 of the Communications Act compels Ofcom to enact rules about TV access services, along with deadline for compliance.
UK Digital Accessibility 2020 Updates
As of September 23, 2020, all public sector bodies in the UK must comply with updates to digital accessibility regulations, which build on existing obligations to people who have a disability under the Equality Act 2010. All existing websites that were published before Sep. 28, 2018 must now be accessible. In general, the new regulations are aligned to accessibility guidelines like that of WCAG 2.1 AA. The regulations apply to pre-recorded videos published after Sep. 23, 2020, and do not explicitly apply to live time-based media. The full name for the new accessibility regulations is Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018.
Broadcasting Services Act
The Broadcasting Services Act gave Australian parliament power to set requirements for closed captioning of broadcast media. An amendment to the act specified caption compliance for public television: 100% of public TV programming aired between 6am-12am and all news and current affairs footage must be closed captioned.
Similar to the FCC in the US or Ofcom in Britain, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) regulates broadcasting, including closed captioning rules. They set guidelines on acceptable formatting, style, and caption display.
Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)
Comparable to the Americans with Disabilities Act in the US or the Equality Act in Great Britain, the DDA protects the civil rights of individuals with disabilities and mandates certain accommodations for them. Section 24 of the DDA requires all free or paid goods, services, or facilities to be made accessible. Subsequent disability discrimination lawsuits have established that this applies to Australian websites or other digital products or services.
Web Accessibility Standard
New Zealand’s Web Accessibility Standard established rules for accessible design of government websites at the state and federal level. It largely mimics WCAG 2.0 design standards. According to the standard, web video requires closed captions for prerecorded content within 10 business days of posting. Live captioning is required for “high stakes information or services,” such as public safety announcements or election news.
Republic Act No. 10905
In 2016, the Republic Act No. 10905, entitled “An Act Requiring All Franchise Holders or Operators of Television Stations and Producers of Television Programs to Broadcast or Present Their Programs With Closed Caption Options,” lapsed into law.
The law requires that broadcast television in the Philippines have closed captions on all programming, with some exceptions.
Broadcasters who fail to provide closed captioning are subject to fines, jail time, or having their broadcasting license revoked.
Disability Act 2005
Ireland reached an accessibility and inclusion milestone with the Disability Act 2005, which mandated that public services be made accessible and inclusive for all people regardless of disability.
Notably, the Act requires that when a ‘public body’ communicates electronically, the contents of the communication must be “accessible to persons with a visual impairment to whom adaptive technology is available.”
The National Disability Authority has produced a legally binding Code of Practice, which outlines how to meet the requirements of the Act, using the WCAG 2.0 AA standard.
In accordance with WCAG 2.0 Level AA, it is required to provide captions for all prerecorded audio content in synchronized media, except when the media is a media alternative for text and is clearly labeled as such. Captions must also be provided for all live audio content in synchronized media.
The Equality Act (PEPUDA)
The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, also known as PEPUDA, or the Equality Act, became law in the year 2000. It states that “neither the State nor any person may unfairly discriminate against any person.”
Discrimination, in this piece of legislation, is defined as “any act or omission, including a policy, law, rule, practice, condition or situation which directly or indirectly A) imposes burdens, obligations or disadvantages on; or B) withholds benefits, opportunities, or advantages from any person on one or more of the prohibited grounds,” which include the grounds of disability.
Chapter 9 of the Equality Act, Prohibition of unfair discrimination on the basis of disability, also states that “no person may discriminate against any person on the ground of disability,” including “failing to eliminate obstacles that unfairly limit or restrict persons with disabilities from enjoying equal opportunities or failing to take steps to reasonably accommodate the needs of such persons.”
Promotion of Access to Information Act
The Promotion of Access to Information (PAIA) of 2000 states “right of access to any information held by a public or private body may be limited to the extent that the limitations are reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality, and freedom.”
Company Training Videos
Title I & Title II
Providing accessible company training videos is covered under both Title I and Title II of the ADA.
Title I prohibits employers and government agencies from discriminating against qualified individuals on the basis of a disability.
Under Title II, disabled employees must not be barred from performing responsibilities because of inaccessible processes or procedures. Therefore state and local entities need to caption videos for internal communication and training, as well as public‐facing material.
The ADA requires an employer to make reasonable accommodation for the disability of a qualified applicant or employee, as long as it would not impose an “undue hardship” on the operation of the business.
Title III of the ADA covers places public accommodation, requiring that they provide auxiliary aids and services to ensure effective communication with individuals with disabilities. Over the last several years, courts have been ruling in support of web and video accessibility, extending the term “place of public accommodation” to online communities, in addition to brick and mortar facilities.
Section 508 is a federal anti-discrimination law which applies to federal and federally funded programs in their treatment of individuals with disabilities. Section 508 expands the Rehabilitation Act to include equal access to electronic and information technology, requiring that accessible alternatives by provided to individuals with disabilities.
Title II of the ADA prohibits disability discrimination by all public entities at the local and state level, including K-12 schools. These schools are required to comply with many regulations.
Section 504 & Section 508
Section 504 prohibits K-12 schools from denying participation in education or extracurriculars due to a child’s disability. It also expands the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to protect a broader range of children with disabilities.
Section 508 relates to electronic and information technology, and covers access to federal programs and services. Several regulations require these programs to provide accessible tech and web content. For example, the Assistive Technology Act will not provide funding to states unless they guarantee compliance with Section 508.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
IDEA ensures that students with disabilities are provided Free Appropriate Public Education that meets their individual needs.
Many states have enacted their own accessibility laws similar to Section 508.
Section 504 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and activities that receive federal funding.
While Section 508 doesn’t apply to colleges that don’t receive federal funding directly, many grants require that materials created within the funding meet 508 standards. Therefore, Section 508 may still apply to some private institutions.
Title III prohibits disability discrimination by “places of public accommodation” including universities that are privately owned.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities by federal programs and activities, federal electronic and information technology, and any program receiving federal assistance.
21st Century Video Accessibility Act
The CVAA states that all online video previously aired on television is required to have closed captioning (including clips and montages).
Many states have enacted their own accessibility laws that apply to religious institutions.
Section 504 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and activities that receive federal funding.
While it’s debated if Section 508 applies to state governments, there are several instances where the law does apply and states do need to comply.For example, many states have enacted their own “mini 508” laws that apply the following requirements.
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.
Enterprise video can greatly benefit from being accessible! But with 70% of enterprise captioning budgets falling under $10,000, many wonder if they really need to make their videos accessible.
If your enterprise organization produces the following videos or has received a request to make videos accessible, then the laws apply to you:
-Public-facing online video content
-Employee training videos
-Video tutorial for products
-Video content for internal communication
The goal of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is to ensure equal opportunities for individuals with disabilities. The ADA has five sections, but Title II and Title III are the most relevant for video and web accessibility.
Media and Entertainment
When we want entertainment we can get it practically anywhere, at any time, in just a few clicks. That’s why it’s crucial to understand how this content must be made accessible. Accessibility laws including the CVAA, FCC, and ADA all apply to media and entertainment in the following ways:
Addresses closed captioning for online video that previously aired on US television with closed captions.
Regulates the quality of closed captions with standards for accuracy, timing, placement, and completeness.
Prohibits disability discrimination by “places of public accommodation” and therefore requires that videos displayed within or distributed by such places are captioned.
National Association of the Deaf (NAD) v. Netflix
In 2010, a suit was brought against Netflix by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), alleging that Netflix was discriminating against deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers because not all their streaming video had closed captions.
The NAD asserted that this online business was a “place of public accommodation” despite lacking a physical location. The NAD also had the backing of the Department of Justice.
This was the first time the ADA had been interpreted to apply to online-only businesses, and specifically online-only video content.
In October of 2012, Netflix decided not to go to court and instead to settle with a legally binding consent decree. They agreed to caption 100% of their video retroactively and moving forward.
Because the case was settled before a court delivered a final ruling, there is room for a difference of opinion on how the ADA applies to only-only businesses.
National Association of the Deaf (NAD) v. Hulu
The NAD pressured Hulu to adopt a formal closed captioning policy for their streaming web video, including Hulu originals.
The plaintiff’s legal team was let by the same attorney that successfully settled the Netflix case on the same issue.
In September, 2016, Hulu reached a settlement with the NAD. They agreed to adhere to the FCC’s standards for caption quality, and to closed caption all full-length English or Spanish video content by September, 2017.
National Association of the Deaf (NAD) v. Amazon
In October 2015, Amazon struck a deal with the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) to ensure that Amazon’s library of over 190,000 TV shows and films will get closed captioning.
Amazon Prime Video was already fully captioned, but this agreement tackles Amazon’s archive of Instant Video that wasn’t yet captioned.
New additions to the Amazon Prime video offerings will also have closed captions.
The closed captions on Amazon video must comply with FCC caption quality standards for accuracy, placement, timing, and completeness.
National Association of the Deaf (NAD) v. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University
In February 2015, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) filed suit against both Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University, citing violations of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act for the universities’ failure to provide accurate and comprehensive captioning for online course materials.
Both universities filed a motion to dismiss the case. After the DOJ weighed in on the side of the NAD, the appeals court denied Harvard and MIT’s motions to dismiss, saying that there is adequate precedent in ADA case law for the suit to proceed. Case is ongoing.
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) v. FedEx Ground Package System, INC. (FedEx Ground)
In 2014, the EEOC sued FedEx for ADA violations because they failed to provide accommodations for deaf or hard-of-hearing employees or job applicants, such as providing American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation and closed-captioned training videos during the mandatory initial tour of the facilities and new-hire orientation. In July, 2015, the NAD joined the plaintiff in the litigation.
In January, 2016, the court denied FedEx’s motions to dismiss the case, and it is still pending.
Earll v. Ebay
Melissa Earll brought a disability discrimination lawsuit against eBay after she was barred from selling her goods on the site. eBay’s verification system for sellers requires the retrieval and submission of a password from a telephone call. Earll was unable to retrieve the spoken password because she was deaf.
In 2013, the court dismissed her case. Earll appealled, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found in favor of eBay in 2015. It argued that the ADA’s Title III does not apply to online-only businesses, and so eBay would not be categorized as a place of public accommodation.
DRA v. University of California, Berkeley
Between 2011 and 2013, three undergraduate students from the University of California (UC) Berkeley, took legal action over their school’s inaccessible textbooks and unrealistic accommodation timelines. Instead of going to court, the legal team representing the students took the collaborative approach and successfully engaged in structured negotiations with the university.
The case was ultimately settled. After UC Berkeley was found to be in violation of ADA’s Title III, the administration made substantial changes to their library and print-to-digital conversion process.