Video Games Get Accessibility Waiver Extension

Video games will not have to meet accessibility standards for other advanced communications systems for at least another year to allow them more time to "innovate, experiment and explore accessibility solution[s]."

The FCC Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau has granted the Entertainment Software Association's (ESA) request to extend the class waiver of the FCC's accessibility rules to video game software through Jan. 31, 2017, but will require a progress report halfway through that waiver period.

The Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA) requires providers of advanced communications services (ACS) equipment—which could include Xbox consoles and other systems—to be accessible and usable by individuals with disabilities unless that "is not achievable."

ESA sought and was granted two waivers for a class of equipment and services including game consoles, peripherals and integrated online networks, as well as online services that distribute the games and software that enable networked play.

While the FCC noted a trend toward marketing the advanced communications services of gaming systems, it "ultimately determined that the majority of marketing for gaming products and services emphasized game playing."

On Oct. 19, ESA filed for an extension of the second waiver, arguing that ACS still had only a peripheral role, also pointing to strides it had made in making games more accessible.

Consumer groups conceded progress but opposed the waiver unless they laid out detailed milestones for "addressing remaining technical challenges" and coming into compliance.

ESA said it was impossible to predict with a sufficient level of granularity when and even if it could come into full compliance. Particularly vexing has been making software accessible, which the FCC conceded, including issues with speech-to-text and "differences between the display technologies used by video games and the displays used for other technologies to which accessibility features, such as screen readers, have been added."

In granting the latest extension this week, the bureau said video gaming remains a definable class and should get a wavier extension because "video game software is capable of accessing ACS, but is nonetheless designed primarily for purposes other than the use of ACS....We are persuaded by ESA’s claims that video game software… continues to emphasize game play rather than ACS functions....Accordingly, we find that the equipment defined by this class is capable of accessing ACS, but, at present, is designed primarily for the purpose of game play, which meets the waiver criteria."

But in a nod to consumer groups, there is a midyear report requirement because the FCC wants to give consumers a "better grasp" of the technical challenges "with specificity."

The report must include:

A. "The extent to which ACS functionality in gaming software is advertised, announced, or marketed to consumers;"

B. "The extent to which ACS functionality is designed to aid game play and the impact that removal of the ACS features would have on the video game play experience;"

C. "The technical challenges that must be resolved to make ACS (voice and text chat) features on video game software accessible, with greater specificity;"

D. "The efforts, innovations, and progress that ESA members have made toward addressing technical challenges and developing accessibility solutions in consultation with individuals with disabilities;"

E. "A list of the disability-related consumer organizations with whom ESA has consulted since the start of this waiver period;"

F. "ESA members’ specific plans to conduct outreach and consultation with members of the disability community during the remainder of the waiver period and beyond (e.g., including focus groups, and panelists who have disabilities at ESA member-hosted conferences and summits)."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.