This article describes key US laws pertinent to accessibility regarding the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. This information will help you understand the circumstances affecting the creation of content in order make it accessible to all individuals under US law.
The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 was created to ensure that individuals with disabilities have access to emerging Internet Protocol-based communication and video programming technologies in the 21st century.
The bill requires that video programming delivered via the Web be made accessible, thus facilitating access to closed captions, similar to that of broadcast television. The full text of the Act is available online.
The Access Board is responsible for developing and updating design guidelines known as the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG). These Guidelines support web accessibility by taking into account Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, and states that communications with persons with disabilities must be "as effective as communications with others".
For more about this law and closed captioning check our article on the ADA 1990.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was the first major legislative effort to secure an equal playing field for individuals with disabilities. In its Section 508 it requires captioning and transcription of any video content made public by federal agencies or organizations receiving federal funds, including higher education institutions.
The U.S. Department of Justice Office of Civil Rights is charged with enforcing Section 508, and the Attorney General is required to evaluate how well the government is conforming to this legislation.
In connection with Section 508 is the Assistive Technology Act of 1998 which makes this law applicable to the states, and thus to the colleges, universities and its contractors and grantees.
Section 504 of this same legislation requires all elementary and secondary schools and most post-secondary 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, providing effective communications for those with hearing disabilities.
Their primary source of audio information is either a transcript or captions.
Regarding new televisions, according to the Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990, they must have built-in decoder circuitry.
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.
One of the most important laws when it comes to Media, is the Telecommunications Act of 1996. It is being enforced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and it mandates that by January 2006 virtually all broadcast and cable programs will have 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.
Another law that regulates closed captioning for Cable Television is under Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations Part 76.606, and is as follows:
- 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.
- 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.
Some states have enacted policies on accessibility of media and websites, or adopted laws similar to the Federal Laws. You can find more information about that in our Accessibility Regulations article.