Recently, President Obama signed into law the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. We have monitored this legislation’s progress closely at Virginia Relay, as it will have many positive effects on Relay services nationwide.

The Act is the result of years of tireless effort from the Coalition for Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT), a coalition of over 300 disability organizations that advocates for full access by people with disabilities to evolving high speed, broadband, wireless and other Internet Protocol (IP) technologies.

COAT continues to work closely with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to implement the new law and related accessible and affordable technology policy. One of the most immediate ways this law will impact Relay services is that is amends the definition of “relay services” to not just include a phone call between a “non-disabled” person and a user of a Relay service (such as STS, HCO, VCO, etc.), but will now also include a call between two people who are using difference forms of Relay service. For example, a STS user will now be able to call a CapTel user, or a VRS user will be able to call an HCO user, and so on. This is a definite step forward, as it acknowledges all of the new technologies that are now part of Relay service.

Other positive provisions of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act include:

  • $10 million in annual funding for the national distribution of communications equipment used by individuals who are deaf-blind
  • Requires captions for new television programs that are also shown online
  • Requires easy access to the closed captioning function on all televisions
  • Internet-based phone services are required to be hearing aid compatible
  • Restoration of video description for people who are blind and visually impaired
  • Requires accessible, advanced communications equipment and services, if achievable; and if not achievable, then to make equipment and services compatible with devices commonly used by individuals with disabilities to achieve access
  • Establishes an Emergency Access Advisory Committee to recommend and for the FCC to adopt rules to achieve reliable and interoperable communications with future Internet-enabled emergency call centers
  • Establishes a Video Programming and Emergency Access Advisory Committee to make recommendations about closed captioning, video description, accessible emergency information, user interfaces and video programming guides and menus
  • Requires devices designed to receive or play back video programming using a picture screen of any size, to be capable of displaying closed captioning, delivering available video description, and making emergency information accessible to individuals who are blind or have low vision.
  • Requires devices designed to record video programming (such as DVRs) to allow closed captions, video description and emergency information to turned on and off when played back on a screen of any size.

It will take time for all of the benefits of the new law to be implemented and take full effect, but Virginia Relay is looking forward to working closely with COAT and the FCC to help with this process. A more complete summary of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act can be found here:

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