Rep. Eshoo, Senator Markey Introduce Legislation to Ensure Accessibility of Video, Communication, and Emerging Technologies for Individuals with Disabilities

November 17, 2022
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo (CA-18), senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee and author of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), today introduced the Communications, Video, and Technology Accessibility Act (CVTA). The CVTA updates and amends the CVAA to keep pace with the proliferation of emerging technologies that have come online since Senator Markey’s 2010 bill was passed with bipartisan support, and will ensure that people with disabilities have full access to the range of mainstream communication products and services that are necessary to participate equally in professional, educational, recreational, and civic contexts, while laying a foundation for accessibility in future technologies.

“As technology has rapidly evolved over the last two decades, much of our economy and day-to-day lives have moved online. Unfortunately, accessibility standards have stayed largely the same, leaving people with disabilities behind. In 2020, 38% of people who were blind or had low vision reported issues with at least one of the technologies needed to do their jobs, and in 2021 as many as 70% of students who are deaf or hard of hearing reported technology challenges in the educational environment,” said Rep. Eshoo. “I’m proud to introduce legislation with Senator Markey to update current laws so people with disabilities have full access to modern technology that is necessary to participate equally in the 21st century.”

“Since I authored the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, technologies have changed. What hasn’t changed is our obligation to make sure that everyone – including people with disabilities – has equal access to the services and technologies they need to thrive,” said Senator Markey. “That is why I am introducing the Communications, Video, and Accessibility Technology Act, to update current laws on the books so that we can meet the technological moment and ensure opportunity, independence, and equal access for all.”

“Accessibility means equal opportunity to create, participate, and communicate—and promoting accessible technology is an important part of our agency’s mission,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “To do so effectively we need to keep up with emerging technologies. This legislation will help us do just that, by ensuring that people with disabilities have full access to communication products and services that are necessary to participate equally in today’s world, while laying a foundation for accessibility in future technologies.”

 
Since Congress enacted the CVAA in 2010, accessibility requirements for people with disabilities have not kept pace with changing technologies. As a result, individuals with disabilities do not have full access to many communication and video tools that are essential today. For example, the majority of video programming lacks audio descriptions for people who are blind or low vision, accuracy issues plague closed captioning on both online and televised video programming for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, video conferencing services do not have adequate functionality for people with disabilities, and deaf individuals who use sign language face significant barriers to access emergency services.

To address these and other issues, the CVTA would:

  1. Improve and expand closed captioning and audio description standards for television programming and online video streaming platforms to ensure that people with disabilities have equitable access to the wide range of programming available to the general public;
  2. Update current requirements to ensure viewers can easily activate and select preferred settings for closed captions and audio description on their video programming devices, such as televisions, smart phones, laptops, and tablets;
  3. Improve access to video programming for people who are deaf and use sign language;
  4. Empower the FCC to ensure accessibility regulations keep pace with emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence and augmented or virtual reality platforms.

Bill text can be found HERE.

The Communications, Video, and Technology Accessibility Act is endorsed by Access Living, Access Ready, American Council of the Blind, American Foundation for the Blind, Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs, Blinded Veterans Association, CommunicationFIRST, Carroll Center for the Blind, Communication Service for the Deaf, Hearing Loss Association of America, National Association of the Deaf, National Federation of the Blind, Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Inc., Perkins School For The Blind, and United Spinal Association.

“For people with disabilities, accessible information and communication technology is a necessity, not a luxury or convenience, that fosters independence, economic self-sufficiency, and active, meaningful participation in civic life,” said Douglas George Towne, Chairman and CEO of Access Ready. “Access Ready is proud to endorse this legislation to build on the achievements of the CVAA to open up, protect, expand, and improve existing and emerging information and communication technologies to all people with disabilities,” said Doug Towne, Chair and CEO, Access Ready.

“The CVTA represents a landmark step toward equitable access for video, communications, and technology for a wide range of communities of people with disabilities. The Samuelson-Glushko Technology Law & Policy Clinic is proud to have contributed to the drafting of the bill on behalf of our client, Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc. (TDI), and is grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with the bill’s broad coalition of advocates,” said Blake E. Reid, Director, Samuelson-Glushko Technology Law & Policy Clinic.

"With telecommunication accessibility standards lagging technology advances, I am not surprised the unemployment rate for blind and visually impaired persons of working age remains close to 70 percent. The CVTA Act will help address this lag by filling in the gaps and helping ensure that people with disabilities have full access to the range of mainstream communication products and services that are now necessary to participate equally in employment such as video conferencing.  Most significantly, it will provide a proactive solution by laying a foundation for accessibility in future technologies. The Blinded Veterans Association thanks Senator Markey and Congresswoman Eshoo for their leadership by sponsoring this vital legislation," said James Vale, National Service Director, Benefits & Policy, Blinded Veterans Association

“The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 laid the foundation for accessible technology and inclusive media for people who are blind, low vision, and Deafblind. Thanks to the CVAA, people who are blind, low vision, and Deafblind have access to accessible telecommunications technology, mobile web browsers, and accessible video content. Since the CVAA was signed into law, we have witnessed unparalleled technological innovation and widespread adoption of new communications and video distribution models, by content creators and consumers alike. For these reasons, it is necessary for Congress to reaffirm our nation’s commitment to accessible communications and video technologies. The American Council of the Blind commends Sen. Markey and Rep. Eshoo for introducing the Communications, Video, Technology Accessibility Act,” said Eric Bridges, ACB’s Executive Director. “Once passed, the CVTA will ensure that critical communications technologies are accessible to people who are blind, low vision, and Deafblind and reiterate our nation’s commitment to accessible media and video content, regardless of how or where it is viewed by consumers.”

“The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 catalyzed more than a decade of substantial improvements in access to telecommunications services and video programming. However, there is still a long way to go before people who are blind, deafblind, or have low vision can watch any program with the same access as people without disabilities and fully access new and emerging communications services. We urge Congress to keep this progress going by passing the Communications, Video, and Technology Accessibility Act of 2022,” said Stephanie Enyart, Chief Public Policy and Research Officer, American Foundation for the Blind.

“The Carroll Center for the Blind is the foremost leader in vision rehabilitation services for individuals confronted by the challenges of vision loss and often other disabilities. With the rapid advancement of emerging technologies, we witness everyday how critical it is to ensure that today’s tools, systems and devices are accessible and inclusive to all.  For those with disabilities, accessible technology is essential for success in their day-to-day-lives, whether in school, work, home, and community. The Carroll Center for the Blind proudly endorses and applauds the CVTA bill that will undoubtedly further ensure an inclusive world for all,” said Greg Donnelly, President and CEO, The Carroll Center for the Blind.

“CommunicationFIRST deeply thanks Senator Edward Markey and Representative Anna Eshoo for authoring and introducing the Communications, Video, and Technology Accessibility Act. The bill strengthens current laws by assuring ALL people with disabilities have full access to the range of communication products and services needed to participate equally in every facet of life. It will also lay a foundation for accessibility in future technologies. The bill tasks the Federal Communications Commission together with the U.S. Access Board on identifying and pursuing solutions to ensure that new and emerging communications and video technology and services are accessible to all people with disabilities, including individuals who use augmentative and alternative communication devices to effectively communicate. Thanks to Senator Markey and Representative Eshoo’s leadership, this bill would ensure access to the same technology and services most take for granted a reality for those of us who rely on AAC, ” said Bob Williams, CommunicationFIRST’s Policy Director.”

“Communication Service for the Deaf, the largest non-profit organization in the US devoted to serving deaf communities, stands fully behind these amendments to the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA). The CVAA has gone a long way toward achieving communication equity and digital inclusivity, but must be made contemporaneous if its intended spirit is to be fully realized. The race to introduce new technologies often happens without the disability community’s participation, negatively impacting the quality-of-life for this population,” said Christopher Soukup, CEO of Communication Service for the Deaf. “The Video, Communications, and Technology Accessibility Act will ensure that no one is left behind, effectively close critical gaps in communication and video programming technologies that have occurred over the past 12 years, and enable all Americans with disabilities to benefit equally as new innovations are developed.”

“Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) commends Senator Edward Markey and Representative Anna Eshoo for their leadership in introducing the Communications, Video, and Technology Accessibility Act (CVTA),” said Barbara Kelley, Executive Director of Hearing Loss Association for America (HLAA). “This update to the groundbreaking 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act takes into account how rapidly technology is changing. For example, CVTA will ensure people will have access to video conferencing platforms with built-in accessibility features, such as automatic captioning functions that will allow people with hearing loss to be fully part of the conversation. That's real progress.”

“Since the original 21st Century Communication and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) was passed in 2010, there have been incredible advances in technology and telecommunications that require updates in the law to ensure equal access for everyone, including Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, and Hard of Hearing people. The proposed bill includes new language that continues to improve on captioning of Internet streaming videos and adds visual access to sign language interpreting on television and other video formats. We urge immediate passage of this bill so that no one is left behind with each innovation,” said Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf.

“As video content, online communication, and digital technology play an ever-increasing role in all of our lives, it is critical that accessibility regulations keep pace with this rapidly evolving landscape,” said Mark Riccobono, President, National Federation of the Blind. “These regulations must include the promotion of audio description and captioning, and the ability to easily access these services, across all platforms and devices. Audio description and captioning provide blind and deafblind people with equal access not only to education and employment but also to culture and entertainment. Access to our culture is no less crucial, since it allows us all to participate in the national and global conversation and is therefore part of our ultimate goals of full integration and living the lives we want. We therefore commend Senator Markey and Congresswoman Eshoo for this forward-thinking legislation, and we urge their colleagues to work with them — and with the blind, deafblind, and disabled communities — toward its ultimate passage.”

"The Communications and Video Technology Accessibility Act (CVTA) is ground-breaking legislation that will empower people with disabilities to communicate effectively in all aspects of their lives. I applaud Senator Ed Markey and Representative Anna Eshoo for their leadership in championing this legislation that will help ensure that the Federal Communications Commission continues to protect access to evolving technologies for all people with disabilities. As a long time disability rights advocate and in my current role working with Voiceitt Inc., a company that has achieved a breakthrough and affordable Artificial Intelligence speech generation technology, I look forward to working with the disability community, Congress, Federal agencies, and the private sector so that everyone with a speech disability, atypical speech, or non-standard speech will be able to communicate independently and be understood by others,” said Ralph G. Neas, former Executive Director of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the incoming board member and Senior Strategy Advisor to the CEO of Voiceitt, Inc.

“The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) of 2010 was a historical landmark law that strengthened accessibility in Information and Communications Technology (ICT); however, as technology continued to rapidly evolve, so has accessibility barriers for people with disabilities which has created a digital inequity gap. The Amendment toward CVAA is a critical lever to address those barriers and in achieving digital inclusion and equity,” said Thomas Horejes. Director for Policy & Advocacy, TDI.

“As more and more of our daily lives are conducted through communications and video technologies, truly equitable access for all people with disabilities is non-negotiable. The Communications, Video, and Technology Accessibility Act of 2022 will help ensure that more people with disabilities are able to achieve the full benefit of these critical services,” said Dave Power, President & CEO of the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, MA. “We applaud Senator Markey and Representative Eshoo for recognizing the wide range of disabilities that can impact communication access and strengthening the iCanConnect Program to allow individuals with cortical/cerebral visual impairment and auditory processing disorders to access the assistive technology they need.”

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