Legislators Considering Updated, Strengthened Accessibility Rules on Anniversary of the ADA

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In the same week that we celebrate the 33rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), lawmakers are considering legislation that would update technology accessibility regulations to ensure full and equal participation for people with disabilities in the digital age.

Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) this week reintroduced to Congress the Communications, Video, and Technology Accessibility (CVTA) Act. The CVTA would update and strengthen existing accessibility regulations outlined in the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) to stay up to date with the new technologies — from video conferencing platforms to artificial intelligence — that have become prevalent since the CVAA became law in 2010.

“As we celebrate the anniversary of the groundbreaking Americans with Disabilities Act, we must ensure our accessibility laws keep pace with the digital age,” said Sen. Markey. “In the 13 years since Congress passed my 21stCentury Communications and Video Accessibility Act, new technologies have brought new challenges for the disability community. In an increasingly digital world, where Americans work, study, receive health care, and engage in civic life online, these tools and services must be accessible for all.”

Enhancing Communications, Video, and Technology Access

The CVTA would provide that individuals with disabilities have equal access to mainstream communication platforms and the technology services needed to participate in professional, educational, recreational, and civic spaces.

It also would bolster standards for television programming and emergency communication, expand accessibility requirements — including closed captions and audio descriptions — to online platforms and video conferencing services, and equip the federal government with the ability to improve accessibility of emerging technologies.

Specifically, the CVTA seeks to enhance communications, video, and technology accessibility for individuals with disabilities by, among other things:

  • Improving closed captioning and audio description standards for television programming and online video streaming platforms so that people with disabilities have equal access to the wide range of programming available to the public.
  • Updating requirements so that viewers can easily activate and select preferred settings for closed captions and audio description on their video programming devices, such as televisions, smart phones, laptops, and tablets.
  • Improving access to video conferencing platforms for people with disabilities.
  • Ensuring people with disabilities have equitable access to 9-1-1 emergency services.
  • Empowering the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) so that accessibility regulations keep pace with emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence and augmented or virtual reality platforms.

“Technology has evolved rapidly over the last two decades but, unfortunately, accessibility standards have stayed largely the same,” said Rep. Eshoo. “Video conferencing and video streaming platforms used every day are not required to have audio descriptions or closed captions, leaving people with disabilities unable to use these tools that are essential to learn, work, connect with loved ones, and access crucial services.”

ADA Anniversary

It’s fitting that legislators once again are discussing ways to eliminate accessibility barriers and provide for greater equal opportunities at the same time that we recognize the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Signed into law 33 years ago today (July 26, 1990), the Americans with Disabilities Act was the first comprehensive civil rights legislation addressing and granting basic accessibility needs for people with disabilities.

The act dramatically changed – and improved – the social and political landscape of the United States, and greatly advanced the rights of people with disabilities. In fact, it’s hard to imagine that some of the rights and benefits that we now take for granted didn’t exist or were difficult to come by a little more than three decades ago.

Without the ADA, even something as simple as curb cuts at street crossings and ramps at entryways for wheelchair users might not exist. Now, because of it, individuals of all abilities benefit from them, whether they’re pushing strollers or carts or have difficulty navigating steps.

The same holds true with captions. While the ADA didn’t specifically address captioning for television, the law helped spotlight the need for communications accessibility and telecommunications equality. As a result, millions of Americans now benefit from closed captioning in addition to those who rely on it.

VITAC is proud to support the Americans with Disabilities Act and celebrate that all people, regardless of ability, have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.