Back in 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that created uniform rules for complaints filed with the FCC’s Market Disputes Resolutions Division and Telecommunications Consumers Division. The new rules changed various facets of the procedure, including disability access complaints filed under the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA).
Fast forward to 2019 where technology has rapidly evolved, as has its need to be more inclusive and accessible by persons with disabilities. While most tech manufacturers are doing what they can to provide compliant disability access, sometimes, certain essential functions can slip through the cracks. Below is an overview of the changes by the FCC.
The Recent Changes
The most recent changes to rules proposed by FCC included:
- Giving defendants 30, rather than 20, days to file an answer to a complaint.
- Giving complainants 10, rather than three, days to file a reply to the defendant’s answer.
- Formalizing the practice that allows complainants and defendants to submit interrogatories (questions) with their complaint, answer, and reply. Parties will no longer need to request permission to submit interrogatories, but they must still submit a statement of why the information is necessary and not otherwise available. Parties may also still object to proposed interrogatories.
- Eliminating the requirement that parties submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law with their complaint or answer.
- Requiring parties to certify that pre-filing settlement efforts had occurred at the “executive level,” so as to involve individuals with decision-making authority as early as possible. (Note: the “executive level” rule only applies in disputes between organizations.)
- Codifying the existing practice of offering voluntary, staff-supervised mediation services.
What Does the Process Look Like?
Let’s take the theoretical case of Jane Doe, who is deaf and uses closed captioning when watching television. Jane wants to watch episodes of a favorite series on a streaming media platform, Str-E-am, but discovers that it does not offer closed captioning, in violation of the CVAA.
Before Jane can file a complaint with the FCC, she must first show that she tried to settle her complaint with Str-E-am, Inc. So, Jane contacts Str-E-am’s help desk, which responds with an apology that closed captioning is not available on the platform and refuses to state if or when it will make closed captioning available. Since Jane is an individual, the “executive level” settlement rules do not apply.
Jane then files a complaint with the FCC, in which she certifies that she attempted to reach a settlement with Str-E-am. Str-E-am has 30 days to respond to Jane’s complaint.
Because most information about Str-E-am’s closed captioning policies is unavailable to the public, Jane wants to submit several interrogatories with her complaint, including what percent of Str-E-am’s content has closed captions and how much it costs to include closed captions on streaming videos. She may include up to 10 interrogatories by default.
After receiving Jane’s complaint and interrogatories, Str-E-am submits its answer denying that the lack of closed captions is a violation of the CVAA. Jane has 10 days to submit a reply to Str-E-am’s answer.
After filing her reply, Jane asks the FCC’s staff to help mediate her dispute with Str-E-am. FCC staff regularly helps to arrange mediation between the parties.
If the mediation fails to result in an agreement between Jane and Str-E-am, Jane must wait for the FCC to rule on her complaint. If the FCC rules in Jane’s favor, ordering Str-E-am to provide closed captioning for content which previously aired on television. Str-E-am must now retrofit its website to handle closed captions.
If you’ve encountered a product or service that you suspect is not in compliance with the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, here’s how you can submit a complaint.
How to File a Disability Access Complaint
There are four ways you can file a disability access compliant with the FCC:
- By phone: Call the FCC Disability Rights Office at 202-418-2517 (voice), 888-835-5322 (TTY) or 1-844-432-2275 (videophone) to request a Communications Accessibility Informal Complaint Form. You will need to provide your last name, zip code, and your Request for Dispute Assistance case number.
- By Email: Email the FCC Disability Rights Office at email@example.com to request a Communications Accessibility Informal Complaint (Form 2000H). Include in your e-mail message your last name, zip code and your Request for Dispute Assistance case number.
- By Mail: Mail your request for a Communications Accessibility Informal Complaint form, along with your last name, zip code, and your Request for Dispute Assistance case number to the following address:
Federal Communications Commission
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau
Disability Rights Office
Communications Accessibility Informal Complaint
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554
- By Fax: Fax a request for your Communications Accessibility Informal Complaint form, along with your last name, zip code, and your Request for Dispute Assistance case number to 202-418-0037.
Regardless of how you wish to submit your complaint, you should be ready to include your contact information, the names, and addresses of the company or companies involved, and a summary of your complaint.
If necessary, you’ll be able to review this information and update your contact information if it has changed at all. This does not apply, however, to the names and addresses of the companies and the summary of your informal complaint. This is because the complaint must address the same accessibility problem that was the subject of your Request for Dispute Assistance.
If you find that the summary of your complaint presented in the Form 2000H is incorrect or you disagree, you can contact the FCC Disability Rights Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-418-2517 (voice), 888-835-5322 (TTY) or 1-844-432-2275 (videophone) for assistance.