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 covered in Section 504 and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act require accessible media for government agencies, public educational institutions, and organizations that do business with the government or that 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: An Act designed to ensure that individuals with disabilities have access to emerging Internet Protocol-based communication and video programming technologies. This Bill applies to broadcasters who have online video content.
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990: Sections of this act prohibit discrimination against those with disabilities and applies to state and local government.
Rehabilitation Act of 1973: Section 508: Section 508 requires captioning and transcription of any video content made public by federal agencies or organizations receiving federal funds, including higher education institutions.
Section 504 and Title II of the ADA: Designed to prevent discrimination, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 require all elementary and secondary schools to make accommodations for students with disabilities.
Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990: This act requires new televisions to have built-in closed caption decoder circuitry
Assistive Technology Act of 1998: By virtue of this act (29 U.S.C. 3002), the Rehabilitation Act’s Section 508 regulations are applicable to the states, and thus to the colleges, universities and its contractors and grantees.
Telecommunications Act of 1996: The Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires virtually broadcast and cable programs to be captioned.
Cable Television Captioning Requirements under 47 C.F.R. 76.606: Cable Television Captioning Requirements under 47 C.F.R. 76.606 protect captioning data and quality for all cable television systems.
U.S. State Laws
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 ( 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.
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.
Download the CaptionSync Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) for Section 508 accessibility compliance details
- Section508.gov FAQ (covers what needs to be captioned under Section 508): https://www.section508.gov/section508_faqs
- 21st Century Video Accessibility Act: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=h111-3101
- Americans With Disabilities Act: http://www.ada.gov/
- FCC Closed Captioning Legislation: http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/closedcaption.html
- Official U.S. Government Section 508 site: http://www.section508.gov/
- Access Board: http://www.access-board.gov/508.htm
- Web Accessibility Initiative: http://www.w3.org/WAI/
- World Wide Web Consortium Accessibility Guidelines: http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10/