Representatives of the software and hardware gaming technology industry petitioned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for a free pass to avoid any responsibilities to ensure the accessibility of their offerings that might otherwise be required by the landmark Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA). Under the CVAA, so-called advanced communications services, such as electronic messaging, must be made accessible unless doing so is not achievable. The law recognizes that some technologies are not primarily designed and marketed to offer such communications, and the providers of such mixed-function devices or services are permitted to ask the FCC for a waiver of the CVAA communications mandates.

In requesting that the FCC shield the gaming industry from CVAA obligations through at least 2021 (an eternity in technology development), the industry effectively asked for a permanent waiver of any expectation that the communications functions offered via gaming need ever be made accessible. AFB invited the consumer community to respond to this unreasonable position, and the community voiced its opposition with enthusiasm. Calling on the FCC to push back on the industry's demand to let gaming completely off the relatively modest accessibility hooks stated in the CVAA, dozens of individual advocates who are blind or visually impaired and their families and friends wrote to the FCC explaining how important gaming has become for social interaction, education, and even the fostering of professional and intimate relationships. Unless people with disabilities have greater access to these fun and useful technologies, they argued, inequities will persist.

The FCC was clearly impressed by the outpouring of concern, and the normally dry prose of FCC official statements enlivened significantly in the formal FCC ruling on the gaming industry waiver request, which quoted extensively from heartfelt consumer comments. While the FCC did ultimately decide to give the gaming industry some additional time to comply with CVAA requirements, the industry has only been given two additional years in which to ramp up its accessibility efforts.

What all of this means is that consumer involvement still makes a big difference, and as the CVAA continues to be implemented over the next few years and beyond, we should begin to see greater accessibility in the mobile device, video technology, and, yes, gaming industries. No, the CVAA does not mean that popular online and other games will be totally usable by people with vision loss, but the CVAA is a precedent-setting law that takes much needed steps toward greater accessibility of the communications elements of gaming, the elements that the FCC has jurisdiction to reach.

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Mark Richert
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From AFB's National Policy Center