phone message

Advanced Communications Services and the CVAA

Written by: Esty Peskowitz

For decades, telecommunications laws have evolved to make telephones and other communications systems more inclusive for individuals with disabilities. In most cases, however, this didn’t apply to new technology, especially internet-based communications. The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) was designed to fix the problem by leveling the playing field between traditional analog technologies, which were covered by accessibility rules, and new-age digital communications systems, which were not.

A key way the CVAA accomplishes this is by regulating the Advanced Communications Services (ACS). Under the CVAA, providers of Advanced Communications Services are required to be accessible and useable by disabled users.

But what are Advanced Communications Services?

The CVAA uses the term “Advanced Communications Services” as a descriptor for newer, internet-based communication systems that were not regulated by existing communications laws.

There are four types of Advanced Communications Services covered by the CVAA:

  • Interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services- allows users to make and receive traditional phone calls. Examples include RingCentral, Vonage and MagicJack, as well as some phone services offered through cable and internet providers.
  • Non-interconnected VoIP services- provides voice-control without traditional telephone systems. Examples include Siri, Alexa, and other voice chat services.
  • Electronic messaging services- offer real-time or near real-time text-based messaging, including text messaging, instant messaging, text-based chat, and email. Examples include Facebook Messenger, IOS voice-to-text, Slack, and Google’s Gmail.
  • Inter-operable video conferencing services- provides real-time video communications. Examples include Zoom, Join.me, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, and other video conferencing/video chat services.

What Does the CVAA Mean by “Accessible”?

The CVAA and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations determine accessibility by looking at two things: How the service is used, and the availability of the information to individuals with disabilities.

On usability, the FCC determines whether the “input, control, and mechanical functions” are “locatable, identifiable, and operable” to people with disabilities. Service providers must offer at least one function to make their product usable by individuals who:

  • Are blind or low vision;
  • Have limited vision and are deaf or hearing impaired;
  • Are colorblind;
  • Are deaf or hearing impaired;
  • Have limited manual dexterity;
  • Have limited reach or strength;
  • Use a prosthetic device;
  • Are mute or unable to speak; or
  • Have limited cognitive skills.

Service providers are also required to make their products usable without time-dependent controls while also ensuring the “information necessary to operate and use the product, including but not limited to, text, static or dynamic images, icons, labels, sounds, or incidental operating cues” are available to users with disabilities. For example,

  • Text and other visual information (pictures, charts, etc.) must be available in auditory form and must also be accessible for users with impaired vision or hearing (e.g., high contrast, able to be magnified);
  • Moving text must also be available in a static form; and
  • Audio must also be provided in visual form (and, if appropriate, in a tactile form) and should also be accessible to users with hearing impairments (e.g., increased amplification or increased signal-to-noise ratio).

Finally, FCC regulations also require manufacturers to make products more inclusive to people with disabilities by:

  • Reducing any flickers that might induce seizures in users with photosensitive epilepsy;
  • Providing audio cutoffs for external speakers or headphones through an industry-standard connector;
  • Reducing noise interference with hearing aids, cochlear implants, and other auditory-assistance devices to the lowest possible level; and
  • Allowing Bluetooth pairing for hearing aids.

The FCC may waive the CVAA requirements for specific features or classes of services, but only in a limited amount of cases. One of them being for basic e-readers.

Back in February 2014, the FCC extended the waiver of Advanced Communications Services Accessibility Requirements for basic e-readers that will end February 1st, 2019.

It provided a waiver for basic e-readers (such as the Amazon Kindle) under the conditions that the device:

  • Doesn’t have an LCD screen but still features a screen that is designed to optimize reading.
  • The device doesn’t have a camera.
  • The device is not offered or shipped to consumers with built‐in ACS client applications and the device manufacturer does not develop ACS applications for its respective device, but the device may be offered or shipped to consumers with a browser and social media applications.
  • The device is marketed as a reading device, and all the promotional material about the device does not tout the capability to access ACS.

The waiver, which ended in February of this year, requires that the E‐Reader Coalition submit a report which includes a study of the technological development, marketing, and consumer use trends in the basic e‐reader market.

After submission, the FCC will decide whether or not to make any further adjustments to the waiver, including termination. Their decisions will rely largely on if the FCC determines that ACS has become a primary or co‐primary purpose of these devices.

Key Takeaways

  • Under the CVAA, providers of Advanced Communications Services are required to be accessible and useable by disabled users.
  • Advanced Communications Services is a descriptor for newer, internet-based communication systems that were not regulated by existing communications laws.
  • The CVAA and FCC regulations determine accessibility by looking at how the service is used and the availability of the information to individuals with disabilities.

Our staff of experts are here to help navigate the ACS. We help you and your organization understand and comply with the CVAA and FCC regulations to ensure your products and services are accessible to individuals with disabilities.