This policy informs organisations about the relevance and importance of the video accessibility legislation for people with disability. Video accessibility implementation revolves around captions and audio descriptions. Captions are text versions of speech and other important audio content. It enables accessibility for individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing or requiring aid to hear all of the audio. Captions are required for compliance with WCAG 2.0 Level A.
According to WebAim, accessible captions should be synchronised, equivalent and accessible. Therefore, captions must appear simultaneously to corresponding audio and be readily available for those who need them.
Captioning comes in two forms: opened and closed. Closed captions (CC) are the most common. SBS defines closed captions as captions that can be hidden (thus closed), until ‘opened’ by the viewer. Essentially, CC can be turned on or off. For more information on turning on CC on SBS please follow this hyperlink.
Subtitles are generally applied to translated dialogue for media in foreign languages. In contrast, captions include descriptions of important non-dialogue audio like “music” or “sighs”. Many countries legally require both live and pre-recorded television programs to be CC.
Open captions have the same content as closed captions, except open captions are permanent and cannot be turned off. Whether captions are open or closed, the media producer has control over the way captions appear. This includes the location of captions, size, font, colour and duration.
Audio description assists in the perception of visual-only content for individuals with a vision disability. This service is necessary for conformance to WCAG 2.0 Level AA. It involves a narrator describing the presented visual-only content on the screen. It can be provided with the primary video, or alternatively, a different version of the video which includes audio descriptions. WebAim also emphasises that it is essential for visual content within multimedia to be described through audio in order for multimedia to be optimally accessible to vision-impaired users.
Video accessibility is a requirement according to the advisory note from the Australian Human Rights Commission. For more information refer to our ‘policies section’ regarding the Advisory Note and section 24 of the Disability Discrimination Act.In Australia, captions are widely available on television and streaming services. However, Australia has limited audio descriptions on television (the major exception being audio described programs on ABC and SBS). Australian Netflix has some audio descriptions, which is primarily due to the US 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) legislation. CVAA impacted Netflix’s accessibility provision in the United States of America. This flowed through to its service in Australia. For more information please refer to our international policies section.
Existing Policies and Legislation
Broadcasting Services Act 1992
In Australia, the only policy and legislation for the provision of captioning apply to television, which is covered in the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (BSA). However, some international legislation, particularly the US CVAA, has impacted the provision of captioning and audio descriptions on Australian digital media. This is especially true of streaming services.
Australian broadcasters have been increasingly adding CC to their programs due to provisions in the BSA. This law gave Parliament the right to establish codes of practice that included captioning programs for the deaf and hard of hearing.
In 1999, the BSA’s title was amended with “(Online Services)” to cover digital television in addition to radio broadcasting. Additional amendments passed in 2001 and 2010 adjusted the requirements for how much free-to-air television programming needed captioning, and established timeframes for compliance.
The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA)
CVAA is an American Act signed in 2010 as a form of telecommunications protection for people with disability. It follows laws from the 1980s and 1990s created to ensure television and telephone services were accessible to all disabled Americans. CVAA also added modernising accessibility laws to keep up to date with 21st Century technologies.
Despite the absence of similar legislation in Australia, the impacts of these foreign requirements are penetrating the Australian market. The example set by the CVAA has warranted recommendations by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). The CVAA is split into two broad sections called titles.
According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), highlights of the CVAA are as follows. Title 1 (telecommunications access) requires advanced communication products and services to be accessible for people with disability. Products and services included interconnected voice over internet protocol (VoIP) service, non-interconnected VoIP service, electronic messaging service and interoperable video conferencing service.
Title 1 includes text messaging, video communications, emails and access to web browsers on mobile devices by people who are vision-impaired or blind. This section creates industry record-keeping obligations. It changes complaint and enforcement procedures, tightens deadlines for the FCC to respond to consumer complaints, requires biennial reporting by the FCC to Congress; and directs the Comptroller General to issue a five-year report on the FCC’s implementation.
Title 1 requires an FCC clearinghouse on accessible communications services and equipment. It applies the hearing aid compatibility mandates to telephone-like equipment used with advanced communications services. It updates the definition of telecommunications relay services (TRS) to include the deaf-blind and allows communication between different types of telecommunication users.
Title 1 requires interconnected and non-interconnected VoIP service providers to contribute to the Interstate TRS Fund. Title 1 directs the allocation of up to $10 million per year from the Interstate TRS Fund for the distribution of specialised equipment to low-income deaf-blind people. This allows them access to telecommunication, Internet access services, and advanced communications. It also authorises FCC action to ensure reliable and interoperable access to next generation 911 services by people with disability.
Title 2 (video programming) restores audio description rules promulgated by the FCC in 2000. It also authorises some expansion of these obligations over the next 10+ years. It requires video programming that is CC on TV to be CC when distributed on the Internet. However, Title 2 does not cover programs shown only on the Internet. It establishes deadlines for the FCC to respond to requests for exemption from the CC rules. Video programming distributors, providers, and owners have to convey emergency information in a manner accessible to people who are blind or vision impaired. It expands the requirement for video programming equipment (equipment that shows TV programs) to be capable of displaying CC, to devices with screens smaller than 13 inches. Therefore such devices are required to give audio descriptions and emergency information accessible to people who are blind or vision impaired, if technically feasible and achievable. It requires devices designed to record TV programs to pass through CC, audio description, and emergency information so viewers can turn on/off the CC and video description when the TV program is played back, if achievable.
Interconnection mechanisms (cables) are required to carry (from the source device to consumer equipment, e.g. a TV set) information necessary to permit the display of CC to make audio description and emergency information audible. This requires user controls for TVs and other video programming devices to be accessible to people who are blind or vision impaired. Hence, TVs and other video programming devices need to have a button, key, icon, or comparable mechanism designated for activating CC and audio description. On-screen text menus and program guides displayed on TV by set-top boxes must be accessible to blind or vision impaired people. Set-top boxes must have a button, key, icon, or comparable mechanism designated for activating CC (when built-in to the set-top box).
Both titles include provisions to ensure people with disability have access to emergency information. If you wish to do more in-depth reading of these Titles, you can do so through the Federal Communications Commission website.