telecommunications tower transmitting to a city

Digital Accessibility for Regional Telecom Providers

Written by: Ryan Diehl

Home is where the WiFi connects automatically and your TV has all your favorite shows recorded. But telecommunications services and hardware are not always easy to use for people who have disabilities – especially those who are blind or have low vision. Telecom providers large and small must comply with the CVAA (21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act).

Here are some frequently asked questions about digital accessibility for state and local telecom providers:

What does the CVAA require of telecom providers?

In short, the CVAA requires that digital, broadband, and mobile technologies are accessible to people with disabilities.

Title I covers access to Communications:

  • VoIP (interconnected and non-interconnected)
  • Electronic messaging service
  • Interoperable video conferencing service
  • Web browsers on mobile devices
  • Hearing aid compatibility for telephone-like equipment
  • Telecommunications relay services (TRS) for people who are deaf-blind
  • Next generation 9-1-1 services

Title II covers access to Video:

  • Video description for those who are blind or low vision
  • Closed captioning for TV and some internet programming
  • Emergency information (e.g., tornado warnings)
  • Caption display requirements for hardware (TVs, smartphones, etc.)
  • Recording and playback of captions and video description by cable boxes or other devices
  • User controls and remotes for TVs and other video devices
  • On-screen text menus and program guides

How many telecom customers have disabilities?

The American Community Survey (ACS) tracks the number of non-institutionalized people in the United States that have one or more disabilities. The most recent data is for 2018, when an estimated 12.6% of Americans identified as disabled. For those 65 and older, the percentage jumps up to 33.9%. Of those surveyed, 85.1% reported that they have broadband internet at home.

To be coded as having a disability, the person (or their parent/guardian/caretaker/etc.) must answer YES to at least one of the following questions:

  • Is this person deaf or does he/she have serious difficulty hearing?
  • Is this person blind or does he/she have serious difficulty seeing even when wearing glasses?
  • Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, does this person have serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions?
  • Does this person have serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs?
  • Does this person have difficulty dressing or bathing?
  • Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, does this person have difficulty doing errands alone such as visiting a doctor’s office or shopping?

Why do small telecom companies have to adhere to the same requirements as national ones?

The short answer: You should do it because there are people in your community who need it. Let’s take a small state as an example. Here are the ACS results from 2017 for the state of Delaware:

Approximately 1 out of every 10 people in Delaware has a disability: 3% are deaf or hard of hearing, 2% are blind or low vision, 4.5% have a cognitive disability, 6.3% have ambulatory difficulties, 2.4% struggle with self-care, and 5.2% have difficulty with independent living.

For a customer with a vision difficulty, websites and mobile content must be compatible with software that reads the page out loud. Video content is more accessible when there is a second track with an audio description of the action on the screen. (Read more about assistive technology for visual disabilities here.)

For a customer with a hearing difficulty, accurate and properly timed captions are necessary. (Captions are valuable in other situations as well: bars, restaurants, gyms, waiting rooms.) Emergency alerts should provide equivalent information in a visual format. (Read more about assistive technology for hearing disabilities here.)

For a customer with a cognitive difficulty, it is important that all information is easy to understand and straightforward to use. Anything that is on a timer (for example, an “are you there?” type inactivity pop-up) should have sufficient time for someone to read and react to the prompt.

For a customer with ambulatory difficulty, features like voice-operated remotes can enable them to browse television channels without having to do much movement. Those using a computer or mobile device may use a switch to operate it. (Read more about assistive technology for mobility disabilities here.)

Is CVAA compliance financially possible for a small organization?

It’s understandable to be concerned about this. After all, a national telecom provider likely has an entire department of full-time employees that are working on digital accessibility. How can a small, regional provider reach the same compliance level with a sliver of that budget?

Becoming more accessible is easier than you might think. Level Access is your complete solution to making your regional telecom company more digitally accessible, so you can drive growth and scale your business. Our ultimate goal is to create a world where digital systems can be made readily accessible to users with disabilities—enabling digital technology to become a profound empowering force in their lives. Through this mission, we not only help you gain the compliance you need to make strategic partnerships, but we make the world more accessible to those who need it most.