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Chat Functionality in Games Released in 2019 Must be Accessible to Players with Disabilities (Updated)

Under the CVAA (21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act)

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Under the now-in-effect 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), games released after Jan. 1, 2019, must include chat functionality that is accessible for people with disabilities, lest their developers face fines.

President Barack Obama signed the CVAA into law in 2010. It updates federal communications laws to improve “the access of persons with disabilities to modern communications” and “makes sure that accessibility laws enacted in the 1980s and 1990s are brought up to date with 21st century technologies, including new digital, broadband and mobile innovations.”

The CVAA requires “advanced communications services and products to be accessible by people with disabilities.” It defines these as ”(1) interconnected voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) service; (2) non-interconnected VoIP service; (3) electronic messaging service; and (4) interoperable video conferencing service.” The law creates “industry recordkeeping obligations” and requires changes to “enforcement procedures.”

The videogames industry has had various waivers for the law, but the last expired on Dec. 31, 2018. As a result, as of Jan. 1 of this year, any games that enter development must be fully compliant; games already in development before that date but released after it “must be as compliant as possible,” though how far into development the game was by Dec. 31, 2018, can be considered; and any games released before this date that receive “substantial updates” after it have to abide by the CVAA.

The International Game Developers Association Game Accessibility Special Interest Group (IDGA-GASIG) notes that the criteria for games complying with the CVAA “must be considered from early in development.” It also states that people with disabilities must be involved with the design or testing process to ensure that games fit the criteria. Ultimately, “the customer has the right to extend the initial mediation period if they choose” and developers can face substantial fines issued at the discretion of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Should a customer find that a game fails to uphold the requirements of the CVAA, the FCC will investigate by taking into account the efforts of the game to be accessible and how the issues can be addressed.

To get more information on the CVAA and what it means for videogames, you can watch this lengthy presentation from Karen Peltz Strauss of the FCC.

Note: This article has been updated to reflect that the CVAA requires accessible chat functionality only, and that IDGA-GASIG did not in fact announce this legislation.

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