On October 8, 2010, twenty years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), President Obama signed the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (“Act”), S. 3304, into law as Public Law No. 111-260. Senator Pryor (D-AR) was instrumental in gaining support for the bill in the Senate and Representative Markey (DMA) authored similar legislation in the House. The stated purpose of the law is to increase the access of persons with disabilities to modern communications, and provisions of the law touch upon communications, television, and the Internet. Entities operating in these areas will want to be aware of forthcoming Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) rulemakings that are included in the law to spell out many of the details of how such accessibility will be accomplished. Highlights from the new law follow below:

  • Require mobile phone Internet browsers, where achievable, to be accessible and usable by blind persons.
  • Require video programming guides and menus provided on navigation devices (e.g., converter boxes, equipment used to access multichannel video programming), where achievable, to be audibly accessible to blind individuals and provide built-in closed captioning capability that can be accessed through a mechanism comparable to a button, key, or icon.
  • Make “advanced communications services” (e.g., interconnected VoIP service, non-interconnected VoIP service, electronic messaging service, and interoperable video conferencing service), where achievable, more accessible and usable by persons with disabilities.
  • Require certain apparatuses used to receive or play back video programming transmitted simultaneously with sound, where technically feasible, to integrate closed caption ability, the ability to deliver and transmit video description services, and the ability to deliver emergency information that is accessible to blind persons.