US legislation affecting communications functionality in games, networks and platforms
NOTE: This is an informational piece only, and does not constitute legal advice
The CVAA (21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act 2010) is general purpose legislation requiring accessibility of all advanced communications services (specifically voice chat, text chat, and video chat), including those in game software, gameplay & distribution networks, and consoles.
It only applies to chat functionality. It does not apply to gameplay.
The games industry has had a series of waivers, the last of which was for game software and expired on Dec 31st 2018.
- Games that enter development after this date must be fully compliant.
- Games already in development after this date but released after it must be as compliant as possible, how far through development the game was at Dec 31st may be taken into account in case of a complaint.
- Games released before this date that receive substantial updates after it must also be compliant.
At a high level CVAA requires any communications functionality and any UI used to navigate to or operate it to be accessible to people with a wide range of conditions, from no sight to no color vision, no speech to limited strength. The criteria must be considered from early in development, and people with disabilities must be involved in some capacity in the design or testing process.
Compliance includes accommodations for low budgets; the list of criteria specifies that devs must meet the criteria as far as is is achievable, with “achievable” meaning within reasonable cost and effort.
Failure to comply can result in customers raising issues with the FCC, which the FCC will then mediate, taking into account what efforts have been made and how feasible the issue is to fix. The customer has the right to extend the initial mediation period if they choose. If a satisfactory outcome is not reached, the customer has the option to escalate it to a full complaint, though the customer must pay a fee to do this.
In the 6 years that other industries have already had to comply with CVAA, every one of the 70 or so consumer issues raised so far has been resolved (fixed or dropped) during mediation. None have progressed to a complaint.
The FCC has teeth in the form of the ability to impose significant fines on uncooperative companies, but this is not a first resort, their priority is to improve access.
The full text of the CVAA legislation is available on the FCC website. We will be publishing a more in depth look at some of the finer details in the future, until then please see the quick reference of the requirements in the appendix of this article, sections B1 and B2:
And for more detail, see this talk on what CVAA means for games by Karen Peltz Strauss of the FCC: