On March 16, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission’s Media Bureau (Bureau) released a Memorandum Opinion and Order (Order) addressing Honda Motor Co., Ltd’s (Honda) January 2017 petition for limited waiver of video accessibility rules for its in-vehicle rear entertainment systems. The Bureau granted Honda’s 20-month waiver request with the condition that Honda provide status update reports.

The disabilities access rules at issue, implemented pursuant to the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA), require manufacturers of covered digital apparatus to ensure devices manufactured after December 20, 2016 include accessible user interfaces. Honda does not make products that would typically be deemed communications devices, but its in-vehicle rear entertainment systems are required to comply with the CVAA’s video accessibility rules. FCC rules require that all digital apparatus be designed so that certain standard functions (e.g., play back, display of video programming) have controls that are accessible to and usable by individuals who are blind or visually impaired. (See our previous discussion here, including the broad scope these disabilities access rules). In the Order, the Bureau states that generally “lack of knowledge of the Commission’s rules” is not a viable basis for good cause to issue a waiver. However, in this case, the Bureau determined that there were “compelling special circumstances . . . that warrant a deviation from the general rule.”

The Bureau found persuasive Honda’s justification that, to comply with the deadline, it would have to suspend production and sales of its vehicles. The Order cites Honda’s statement that stopping production would cause temporary layoffs of Honda employees and financial harm to the company that could jeopardize additional jobs. The Bureau agreed that halting production would not be in the public interest. The Bureau also highlighted Honda’s inclusion of a detailed plan for implementing the requisite accessibility features and accounting for the time to undertake each step of the redesign process. The Bureau further noted that the National Federation of the Blind’s opposition did not provide specific evidence to refute Honda’s claims that the changes could not be done in less time.

The Order requires Honda to ensure that vehicles manufactured after August 20, 2018 are fully compliant with all relevant accessibility requirements. The Order also requires Honda to submit status reports about its efforts to integrate the accessibility features for its in-vehicle rear entertainment systems within six months and one year after the initial compliance deadline.

While Honda was granted some reprieve, their products are still deemed to be within the scope of the requirements and they are expected to come into compliance. Therefore, companies that provide digital products or services, including as components in other products, equipment or services, are encouraged to do their due diligence and seek guidance to determine whether they are compliant with disabilities access regulations given the wide breadth of applicability of the CVAA rules.