Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act

What does CVAA stand for?

Despite having an Act already in place, nearly a century has passed since it went into action. The US government created the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) to stay current with new technologies.

We’ll break down the Act, what it means for businesses, and how Compliant can help you keep your website accessible for all users.

President Obama signed the CVAA into law in 2010. At the time of its passing, over 30 million Americans self-identified as having disabilities that excluded them from using telephone services, television services, or both. Prior to the CVAA, citizens with disabilities relied on the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. However, those laws did not specifically apply to telecommunications.

Considering that certain information channels arrive through phones and news networks, this exclusion left many people without a reliable method of obtaining potentially crucial or life-saving information. Not to mention the inherent difficulties when calling 911 or reporting a crime if disabilities prevent someone from using a phone.

What is CVAA Compliance?

The CVAA mandates that any public-facing communications company under the Federal Communications law must have certain accessibility standards in place to enable people with disabilities to engage and interact with the information. In 2019, video game software and publishers in the games industry became subject to CVAA regulations.

If the manufacturer or service provider cannot reasonably incorporate modern communications accessibility features, they must ensure that their product or service is compatible with third-party equipment that makes their product or service accessible to people with disabilities. For example, software that doesn’t provide an alternative way to navigate through the screen other than touch must be compatible with other devices used by people with disabilities for alternative options for navigation.

What are Advanced Communications?

The Federal Communications Commission defines advanced communications services as:

  • Interconnected voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) service.
  • Non-interconnected VoIP service.
  • Electronic messaging service.
  • Interoperable video conferencing service. These services include text chat or instant messaging, video chat, voice chat, e-mail, and real-time video communications.

Part of the reason advanced communications needed defining so precisely was to assuage the debate about whether or not video games should also be subject to the CVAA. The debate is because many cooperative games offer chat and messaging functions that count as advanced communications, making them subject to CVAA’s regulations.

What did the CVAA replace?

Previously, there was the Communications Act of 1934, which the CVAA replaced. Because there were numerous technological advancements between 1934 and 2010, an updated Act was needed to include new digital, broadband, and mobile advances.

The CVAA also updated laws passed in the 1980s and 1990s to include new technologies and accessibility standards.

Why was the CVAA passed?

The purpose of the CVAA is to strengthen the accessibility laws for people with disabilities to interact with telephones and television programs equally. It was also passed to ensure that television programs uploaded and watched online have the same accessibility standards as they do when aired on network television.

Many people require smartphones to make emergency calls or for news about emergency information such as evacuations or storm warnings. The Emergency Access Advisory Committee and others felt this information is invaluable and that access of persons with disabilities should be universally available so that they can take steps to protect themselves and utilize the information.

Aside from emergencies, accessible telecommunications and video programming allow people with disabilities to become part of a community and interact with others on their terms. For example, being deaf shouldn’t keep someone from enjoying television programming.

What are the two titles of the CVAA?

There are two primary titles of the CVAA which address accessibility rules for video programming and other means of communication. Companies must ensure they are compliant with whichever title affects them based on their offered products or services.

Communications Access

Title I of the CVAA addresses adding or modifying communication features for products and services utilizing broadband to serve people with disabilities better. Some of the communications network features covered under this title include:

  • Advanced communication services must be accessible to all subscribers. These services include VoIP services, non-VoIP services, text messaging, e-mail, instant messaging, video programming guides, and video conferencing.
  • Mobile web browser user interfaces must be accessible to blind users.
  • More FCC involvement with consumer complaints and reporting.
  • Hearing aid compatibility with communication services.
  • Allocation of funding to specialized equipment for an end user with disabilities.

Video Programming

Title II makes it straightforward for people with disabilities to consume content on TV or the internet when created by video programmers subject to the FCC’s rules. Some of the areas covered under this title include:

  • Audio description regulations.
  • Closed caption regulations.
  • Audio description regulations.
  • More FCC involvement.
  • Emergency information must be accessible to blind or visually impaired users.
  • TVs and other video devices must have a button, icon, or key to enable closed captions, video descriptions, and audio descriptions.
  • On-screen menus and guides are accessible to visually impaired users.

Who enforces the CVAA?

The Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, enforces the CVAA by receiving complaints and filing them with Congress. The FCC has the authority to issue notices to non-compliant companies and to levy fines against them if they continue to be non-compliant and provide no reasonable explanation for their non-compliance.

If the FCC’s penalties are not enough, they can also lean on Congress to help them enforce the regulations. The FCC also has the right to ask an individual or company to cease and desist until their efforts to circumvent the CVAA regulations have stopped, and they have proven their compliance.

What rights do consumers have?

Consumers have the right to file lawsuits against companies who flout the regulations laid out in the CVAA. They can also file complaints with the FCC. Those complaints are examined in detail, and the FCC responds to them or reports the complaints to Congress for further action.

Every five years, the FCC turns over their total report of complaints made and evidence found against organizations that are not abiding by the Act.

Additionally, consumers have the right to choose where and how they spend their money. Boycotting a company for failure to follow FCC regulations and add accessibility features is one of the most powerful moves an individual can make, especially in a world where news of this non-compliance can spread in minutes across multiple internet browsers and social media platforms.

What liability do manufacturers or advertisers have?

A manufacturer is defined as an organization that creates equipment for advanced communications systems, including software. Manufacturers and advertisers, or people who make the services or products possible, are liable for creating products or services that comply with FCC regulations established through the CVAA or noting specific examples where compliance could not be reasonably performed.

They must keep records of CVAA compliance to present to the FCC if they are audited. These records should include detailed descriptions of accessibility features, how they have made a reasonable effort to implement those features, what accessibility devices the product is compatible with, and any plans for increasing accessibility.

What are the penalties for violating the CVAA?

The FCC can issue a Notice of Apparent Liability letting the entity know that they are preparing to levy a fine against them for lack of accessibility and allow the entity to reply or produce evidence to defend itself.

The FCC can also levy fines against non-compliant networks and other companies that provide communication programs or 21st century technologies. These fines can add up to thousands of dollars of expense per violation, quickly becoming more expensive than simply complying.

Who is exempt from CVAA Compliance?

User-generated content is exempt from CVAA compliance. This exemption means that content creators not affiliated with any recognized TV network can upload videos on YouTube, Twitch, TikTok, or other websites without needing to comply with CVAA regulations. YouTube does offer a feature with automatically generated subtitles to increase accessibility, but the subtitles offered are machine-generated, which means they are often inaccurate.


The CVAA mandates that organizations publishing content on network television or online must ensure their content is accessible to people with disabilities. Similarly, any companies offering telecommunications services must also be compliant with the FCC’s regulations so that millions of Americans dealing with disabilities have equal access to information and communication services. Contact us today to see how we can help your website stay Compliant with changing laws.