FCC’s Broad Disabilities Access Authority and Requirements

by Kelley Drye & Warren LLP
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Last week the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC or Commission) Media Bureau released a Public Notice (Notice) seeking comment on a petition for limited waiver of the Commission’s rules filed by Honda Motor Company (Honda). Honda seeks a limited 20 month waiver of the requirement for the user interfaces on its rear entertainment systems to be accessible for people with disabilities. Comments on the Notice are due by January 11, 2017 and reply comments by January 23, 2017.

The rules regarding the accessibility of user interfaces on digital apparatus result from the Commission’s statutory authority under the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA). Section 79.107 of the FCC’s rules requires that all digital apparatus be designed so that certain standard functions (e.g., play back, display of video programming) have controls that are accessible to and usable by individuals who are blind or visually impaired. Digital apparatus refers to any device or video player capable of displaying video programming transmitted in digital format simultaneously with sound that manufacturers install into the devices they manufacture before sale or instruct customers to install after sale. Additionally, section 79.109(a) of the FCC’s rules requires digital apparatus with built-in closed captioning or video description to include a mechanism like a button for easily activating those features. Manufacturers were required to be compliant with these rules by December 20, 2016.

Honda explains in its petition that it was not aware of the CVAA’s potential applicability to auto manufacturers and Honda’s rear entertainment systems until recently. (Although the compliance deadline occurred recently, the applicable order and rules were effective back in 2013.) Honda further noted that even after the company became aware of the implications of the CVAA requirements, it had difficulty addressing compliance because much of the hardware and software manufactured for vehicles did not possess the right functionality.

This reflects the potentially broad reach of the CVAA’s provisions and related regulatory requirements to manufacturers and service providers that may not have traditionally been under the Commission’s purview. Companies that provide digital products and services may need to incorporate accessibility considerations early in the development process and seek guidance about applicability of the CVAA’s extensive regulatory requirements.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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