Accessibility Regulations

Most government agencies, educational institutions and organizations who do business with the government are subject to compliance with accessibility regulations and laws that support the rights of access to information for people with disabilities. In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission enforces broadcast captioning laws, and most prime-time and network-delivered shows must contain captions. Most U.S. and International Web accessibility laws and guidelines are derived from standards developed through the World Wide Web (W3C) organization’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) which specifies guidelines to making media accessible. U.S. accessibility mandates Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Amendment to the Americans with Disability Act require accessible media for government agencies, students and faculty at public educational institutions, government agencies and organizations who do business with the government or who receive funding from the government. Penalties for non-compliance are generally addressed through civil litigation and are filed as civil rights violations.

The information below is intended to summarize known legislation, and does not constitute legal opinions.

U.S. Federal Laws

Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2008 and 2009

This act is designed to ensure that individuals with disabilities have access to emerging Internet Protocol-based communication and video programming technologies in the 21st Century. It calls for an appropriate schedule of deadlines for the provision of closed captioning of video programming distributed to the public over the Internet. The bill introduced in 2008 did not pass. The bill was reintroduced in June 2009 as H.R. Bill 3101. The bill requires that video programming delivered via the Web be made accessible, similar to that of broadcast television. Full text can be found here.

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

Title II of this act (42 U.S.C. 12131 et seq.) prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities:

(a) any State or local government;
(b) any department, agency, special purpose district, or other instrumentality of a State or States or local government; and
(c) the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, and any commuter authority (as defined in section 103(8) of the Rail Passenger Service Act).

Further, section 202 also alludes to captioning:

Subject to the provisions of this title, no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.

Section 402 states:

Any television public service announcement that is produced or funded in whole or in part by any agency or instrumentality of Federal Government shall include closed captioning of the verbal content of such announcement. A television broadcast station licensee:

  1. shall not be required to supply closed captioning for any such announcement that fails to include it: and
  2. shall not be liable for broadcasting any such announcement without transmitting a closed caption unless the licensee intentionally fails to transmit the closed caption that was included with the announcement.”

July 26, 1990, P.L. 101-336, Title IV, 402, 104 Stat. 369.

Rehabilitation Act of 1973: Section 508

Section 508 of the Workforce Rehabilitation Act as amended in 1998 and the implementing regulations (36 C.F.R. 1194.1 et seq.) issued by the Federal Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) require that electronic and information technology developed, purchased or used by federal agencies and organizations receiving federal funds, including higher education institutions, and those doing business with the government must be accessible for use by persons with disabilities. Section 508 Requirement for transcripts and captions:

The availability of a transcript of audio content satisfies the requirement of the first Section 508 standard formulated by the Access Board

§1194.22 (a)

A text equivalent for every non-text element shall be provided (e.g., via “alt”, “longdesc”, or in element content).

Sites with audio content that include transcripts meet the Section 508 standards.The Access Board also interprets this provision [1194.22 (a)] to require that when audio presentations are available on a Web page, because audio is a non-textual element, text in the form of captioning must accompany the audio, to allow people who are deaf or hard of hearing to comprehend the content.

§1194.22 (b)

Equivalent alternatives for any multimedia presentation shall be synchronized with the presentation. Sections 1194.22 (a) and 1194.22 (b)together require that a multimedia presentation have its transcript of the audio synchronized with the presentation with captions.

Video or multimedia products are covered by section 1194.24 (c,d,e) of those regulations. Specifically, streaming media, such as broadcasts and cable signals, as well as online presentations must correctly receive and display captions. Training and informational video and multimedia productions must contain open or closed captions.

Section 504 and Title II of the ADA

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act was designed to ensure that any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance does not discriminate on the basis of disability for otherwise qualified persons. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (as amended in 1998) requires all elementary and secondary schools and most postsecondary educational institutions must be responsive to the needs of individual students and students with disabilities and make programs and services accessible to them on request. A “person with a disability” is defined as any person who:

(1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities,

(2) has record of such an impairment, or

(3) is regarded as having such an impairment.

Major life activities include walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for oneself, and performing manual tasks.

Under section 504, “effective communications” is required, and for those with hearing disabilities, their primary source of audio information is either a transcript or captions.

Assistive Technology Act of 1998

By virtue of this act (29 U.S.C. 3002), the Rehab Act section 508 regulations are applicable to the states, and thus to the colleges, universities and its contractors and grantees.

Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990

This act requires new televisions to have built-in decoder circuitry. Specifically:

(a) All analog television displays 13 inches and larger, and computer equipment that includes analog television receiver or display circuitry, shall be equipped with caption decoder circuitry which appropriately receives, decodes, and displays closed captions from broadcast, cable, videotape, and DVD signals. As soon as practicable, but not later than July 1, 2002, widescreen digital television (DTV) displays measuring at least 7.8 inches vertically, DTV sets with conventional displays measuring at least 13 inches vertically, and stand-alone DTV tuners, whether or not they are marketed with display screens, and computer equipment that includes DTV receiver or display circuitry, shall be equipped with caption decoder circuitry which appropriately receives, decodes, and displays closed captions from broadcast, cable, videotape, and DVD signals.

Telecommunications Act of 1996

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires mandates that by January 2006 virtually broadcast and cable programs will be captions. This act does not cover DVDs or home videos. This law also mandates:

  • Effective January 1, 2010, 100% of new nonexempt Spanish language programming must be closed captioned.
  • Beginning January 1, 2012, 75% of pre-rule nonexempt Spanish language programming must be closed captioned per channel per quarter.

Cable Television Captioning Requirements under 47 C.F.R. 76.606

The requirements for closed captioning laid out in Cable Television Captioning Requirements under 47 C.F.R. 76.606 are as follows:

  1. As of June 30, 1992, the operator of each cable television system shall not take any action to remove or alter closed captioning data contained on line 21 of the vertical blanking interval: and
  2. As of July 1, 1993, the operator of each cable television system shall deliver intact closed captioning data contained on line 21 of the vertical blanking interval, as it arrives at the headend or from another origination source, to subscriber terminals and (when so delivered to the cable system) in a format that can be recovered and displayed by decoders meeting 47 C.F.R. 15.119 of the Rules.

U.S. State Laws

A summary of state accessibility laws is found here. The following states (not comprehensive) have enacted policies on accessibility of media and Web sites: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Oklahoma. Most of these states have adopted laws similar to the Federal Laws. Several states have enacted or have pending specific laws addressing issues such as captioning and publishers’ obligations to provide captioned materials or to provide copyright clearance to enable non-captioned materials to be captioned. Missouri Law (Icon for a PDF file RSMo 170.135) requires publishers or manufacturers of electronic video instructional materials to supply the videos with open or closed captions to make the materials more accessible for students with hearing impairment as of January 1, 2008. Failure to comply will include financial penalties. California Assembly Bill 386 introduced in February, 2009 would require that publishers caption upon request or provide a license to caption to California schools who need captioned material. The law would impose tight deadlines of actions, and provide options to allow schools the ability to caption materials on their own with no copyright constraints if the publisher is not able to comply.

Canadian Laws

Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)

This act has phase-in requirements for accessibility in key areas such as education in the province of Ontario. While the phase-in period to become compliant is rather lengthy, institutions are required to submit plans to demonstrate how they will comply.

Public Notice CRTC 1995-48

This notice directs major English language televisions networks to caption at least 90% of all programming during the broadcast day as well as all local news, including live segments. Individual stations and specialty networks also have requirements as specified in their license.

United Kingdom Laws

The United Kingdom had representatives working on the World Wide Web’s (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative and has adopted priority one guidelines similar to legislation in the United States.

Disability Discrimination Act Part IV, and described in the Code of Practice (2002) for Providers of post-16 Education and Related Services. In 2006, the DDA amendment regulations were introduced, bringing various changes including some to the part of the DDA dealing with post-16 education. In addition, the DDA 2005 brought a new duty to all public authorities, including universities, to promote disability equality. The elimination of disability discrimination and of the harassment of disabled people combines with the following strands of the positive duties:

  • To promote equality of opportunity between disabled people and people who are not disabled
  • To promote positive attitudes to disabled people
  • To encourage disabled people to take part in public life
  • To take account of disabled people’s needs, even if this demands more favorable treatment of disabled people.

Campuses have to respond to the needs of these students with appropriate support, which would include captioning media that is used as instructional materials.

Voluntary Product Accessibility Template

Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) details CaptionSync’s Section 508 accessibility compliance. Download the CaptionSync VPAT.

Additional Resources