Access to the Television Environment Now in Sight

by Melanie Brunson

On Oct. 31, 2013, the Federal Communications Commission released a Report and Order adopting new accessibility requirements for televisions, set-top boxes, and other devices used to watch video programming, as required by the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA). 
This final rule represents a victory for ACB and the broader blind community! This outcome would not have been possible without the energetic response to our calls for assistance from members, as certain consumer electronics industry representatives sought to reverse accessibility language contained in the CVAA. As a result of your efforts and the productive negotiations that ACB and our colleagues at the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) had with the consumer electronics industry, manufacturers of televisions, computers, tablets, smart phones, and other devices used to watch video programming will need to make built-in functions related to video programming and on-screen text menus and visual indicators accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired, if achievable.  Manufacturers must also enable viewers to access video description via mechanisms that are reasonably comparable to buttons, keys, or icons.
Manufacturers of set-top boxes and cable and satellite television companies that lease or sell set-top boxes must make their on-screen text menus and program guides that are used to display or select video programming accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired, if achievable.  Accessible set-top boxes or accessibility solutions must be provided upon request and at no additional charge to individuals who are blind or visually impaired.  Documentation that verifies that the individual is blind or visually impaired may be required in certain circumstances.
These requirements take effect three years after the Report and Order is published in the Federal Register, and five years after publication for mid-sized and smaller cable operators and small cable systems.
Well done, everyone! The days of being able to have full access to our home theater environment are in sight!