Games After January 1, 2019 Must Have Accessible Communications Under CVAA Legislation [UPDATE]

New CVAA legislation requires games in the US to ensure they are accessible for people with disabilities or the FCC could issue potential fines for titles that fail to comply.

January 3, 2019

The IGDA (International Game Developers Association) on December 31, 2018, pushed new details regarding CVAA (21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act 2010). The high level CVAA will require any communications functionality and any UI used to be compliant and suitable for those with a wide range of conditions. Failure to comply will allow complaints to be made to the FCC and possible fines.

The CVAA covers accessibility for all advanced communications services, Here’s the explanation from the IGDA. “The CVAA (21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act 2010) is general purpose legislation requiring accessibility of all advanced communications services (specifically voice chat, text chat, and video chat), including those in game software, gameplay & distribution networks, and consoles.” The IGDA states that the games industry has had a series of waivers with the last being for game software but expired on December 31.

Starting from January 1, 2019, games launched in the US must ensure they are accessible to people with disabilities in regards to communications. Here is some more information taken from the IGDA website regarding how games are affected based on their development progress.

  • Games that enter development after this date must be fully compliant.
  • Games already in development after this date but released after it must be as compliant as possible, how far through development the game was at Dec 31st may be taken into account in case of a complaint.
  • Games released before this date that receive substantial updates after it must also be compliant.

As well as ensuring that the game is accessible with communications for those with disabilities, the creation of the game must have these conditions in mind early in development and involve disabled people in the design or testing process.

“The criteria must be considered from early in development, and people with disabilities must be involved in some capacity in the design or testing process.”

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Should the game not meet the standards and fail to comply, it will lead to customer complaints being issued to the FCC. From there the FCC will mediate and look into efforts made to fix the issues, and how feasible it would be to fix. The customer can also choose to extend the period of time the FCC allows for the fixes to be implemented, however, if the customer chooses not to extend the period of mediation, substantial fines may be issued.

More details are planned to be released in the future, giving a more in-depth look at what CVAA means. A video presentation is available to view below. It runs at thirty-eight minutes long and features the Deputy Chief of the FCC Karen Peltz Strauss explaining the CVAA and the legal implications for video game development and the steps required to make a compliant product.

Additionally, an article over at The Paciello Group originally posted back in 2014 has a full list of requirements found in sections B1 and B2. You can also find those specific sections pasted underneath the video below, but there are more sections to that article worth reading.

We’ve had a look into accessibility in games here at DualShockers, especially with how developers can make video games more accessible to those with hearing conditions. I’ve also looked into why it was important that the developers of Spyro Reignited Trilogy paid attention to the backlash when it was discovered that the game lacked subtitles during cutscenes. Furthermore, we’re seeing games becoming more accessible, with titles such as Pokémon: Let’s Go Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! being developed to be so accessible for players.

Update: Ian Hamilton reached out to offer a minor correction. CVAA is old legislation, signed in 2010. The compliance date for most industries was 2012, but consoles and gameplay networks had a series of waivers until 2015, and games had an additional waiver until Dec 2018.

Update #2: CVAA is not forcing all games to ensure that gameplay is suitable for those with disabilities. This focuses on games that have communications systems, such as text chat and voice chat. Examples could mean UI being easily readable for those with vision issues, a working VOIP for those who can’t type, text-to-speech, maybe even voice-to-text.

(b) Accessible – The term accessible shall mean that:

(1) Input, control, and mechanical functions shall be locatable, identifiable, and operable in accordance with each of the following, assessed independently:

(i) Operable without vision. Provide at least one mode that does not require user vision.

(ii) Operable with low vision and limited or no hearing. Provide at least one mode that permits operation by users with visual acuity between 20/70 and 20/200, without relying on audio output.

(iii) Operable with little or no color perception. Provide at least one mode that does not require user color perception.

(iv) Operable without hearing. Provide at least one mode that does not require user auditory perception.

(v) Operable with limited manual dexterity. Provide at least one mode that does not require user fine motor control or simultaneous actions.

(vi) Operable with limited reach and strength. Provide at least one mode that is operable with user limited reach and strength.

(vii) Operable with a Prosthetic Device. Controls shall be operable without requiring body contact or close body proximity.

(viii) Operable without time dependent controls. Provide at least one mode that does not require a response time or allows response time to be by passed or adjusted by the user over a wide range.

(ix) Operable without speech. Provide at least one mode that does not require user speech.

(x) Operable with limited cognitive skills. Provide at least one mode that minimizes the cognitive, memory, language, and learning skills required of the user.

(2) All information necessary to operate and use the product, including but not limited to, text, static or dynamic images, icons, labels, sounds, or incidental operating cues, [shall] comply with each of the following, assessed independently:

(i) Availability of visual information. Provide visual information through at least one mode in auditory form.

(ii) Availability of visual information for low vision users. Provide visual information through at least one mode to users with visual acuity between 20/70 and 20/200 without relying on audio.

(iii) Access to moving text. Provide moving text in at least one static presentation mode at the option of the user.

(iv) Availability of auditory information. Provide auditory information through at least one mode in visual form and, where appropriate, in tactile form.

(v) Availability of auditory information for people who are hard of hearing. Provide audio or acoustic information, including any auditory feedback tones that are important for the use of the product, through at least one mode in enhanced auditory fashion (i.e., increased amplification, increased signal to noise ratio, or combination).

(vi) Prevention of visually induced seizures. Visual displays and indicators shall minimize visual flicker that might induce seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy.

(vii) Availability of audio cutoff. Where a product delivers audio output through an external speaker, provide an industry standard connector for headphones or personal listening devices (e.g., phone like handset or earcup) which cuts off the speaker(s) when used.

(viii) Non interference with hearing technologies. Reduce interference to hearing technologies (including hearing aids, cochlear implants, and assistive listening devices) to the lowest possible level that allows a user to utilize the product.

(ix) Hearing aid coupling. Where a product delivers output by an audio transducer which is normally held up to the ear, provide a means for effective wireless coupling to hearing aids.

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Ben Bayliss

Based in the UK and adores venturing through FPS horrors and taking photos in pretty much anything with a functioning photo mode. Also likes car games.

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