Quiz: What Captioning Laws Apply to You?

Suspect you might be legally required to closed caption your online videos?

Knowing which closed captioning 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.

Take the quiz below to get individualized results of which laws apply to you. We’ll also provide you with resources to help you learn more about your inferred legal requirements for captioning. Get started below!

Which of the following best describes your organization?

Higher Education

Higher Education
(University, college, trade school, community college, certification program, adult/continuing education)
K-12

K-12 School
(private or public)
eLearning

Private company that produces or distributes educational video content
(e.g., Pearson, edX)
Government

Government Agency
(Federal, state, or local level)
Entertainment

Company that produces or distributes video programming for TV, film, or OTT
Online Video

Creator of web video content not for TV, film, or OTT
(e.g., YouTuber, vlogger, digital agency)
Faith

Church or religious broadcaster
Enterprise

Private enterprise that uses video publicly or internally
(Either for profit or non-profit)
Not Sure

Not sure

Web Accessibility laws and Closed Captioning by Industry

Most laws affect one of the following industries:

  • K-12 School
  • Higher Education
  • Online Learning or Continuing Education
  • Government
  • Film & TV Producer
  • Online Video
  • Religious Broadcaster
  • Private Company

K-12 Schools

 

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:


Higher Education

 

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:


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:


Government

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:


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.
 
 
 
 
 

 

Federal laws in the United States, like FCC, CVAA, and ADA, require producers and distributors of video content to caption.

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).

Organizations like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon have all been sued under the ADA for failing to caption their content.


Helpful resources for film & TV producers:


Online Video

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:


Religious broadcasters

 

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:


Private companies

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:


Other: None of the above When deciding which web accessibility laws apply to you, ask yourself the following questions:  Are you a public or private company?  If you are a public or private company you may have to comply with the ADA depending on the type of content you produce.  Do you receive federal funding?  If you receive federal funding then you must comply with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.  Are you funded by the state or local government?  States with "mini 508s" required web content to be WCAG 2.0 Level A and Level AA compliant.  Do you produce online video?  Unless you produce anything previously published on television, you are not required to caption.  Do you produce or use training videos?  Training videos are required to be accessible under the ADA.  Do you produce online video that previously aired on television?  Online video that previously aired on television must be captioned as required by the CVAA.  Do you produce video clips or mashups from full-length programs that previously aired on television?  Clips and mashups from full-length programs that previously aired on television must be captioned as required by the CVAA.

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.