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Video Game Communications Now Subject to U.S. Accessibility Law

Updated: People with disabilities can expect more accessibility to video game communications services like text and voice chat in the near future thanks to a U.S. law that now affects the industry.

President Obama signed the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) into law in 2010. It makes sure that accessibility laws written in the 1980s and 1990s are updated with 21st century technologies in mind, giving disabled people greater access to modern communications like voice chat, text chat, and video chat.

The games industry managed to avoid full compliance with the law by receiving a series of waivers, but the last of those expired on Dec. 31, according to the International Game Developers Association (IGDA). Games that enter development after that date must now be fully compliant. Unreleased games already in development must be as compliant as possible, although the IGDA said the progress of a game’s development might be taken into account in case of a complaint. Meanwhile, games released before Dec. 31 that receive substantial updates after that date must also be compliant. That last one will likely affect many online games that release major DLC or expansions, like “Fortnite,” “Destiny 2,” or “World of Warcraft.”

Under the law, any communications functionality and the UI used to navigate it must be accessible to people with a wide range of conditions. The criteria must be considered from early in development, the IGDA said, and people with disabilities must be involved in some capacity in the design or testing process. The law apparently takes budgeting into account. Studios must meet the criteria as best they can within reasonable cost and effort.

Studios that fail to comply with the CVAA could receive customer complaints and undergo mediation with the FCC. If mediation doesn’t work, they could face fines.

The IGDA stressed that the CVAA only applies to video game chat functionality. It won’t affect gameplay.

Variety reached out to AbleGamers, a nonprofit dedicated to improving accessibility in the video games space, to get its thoughts about the CVAA and what full compliance could mean for disabled gamers going forward.

“The CVAA is very narrowly focused on communication,” AbleGamers founder Mark Barlet said in a statement. “AbleGamers has been from the start suspect as to why video games would be defined as communication devices. While the FCC disagreed with us, and the rest of the games industry, the focus of the CVAA is still very narrow. It only covers the part of the game where gamers can communicate with gamers. Some developers have come to us with concerns that CVAA requires all games to be universally accessible by law. That’s just not true. That said, the industry has embraced a greater accessibility movement that we here at AbleGamers has spearheaded, and we could not be happier. Companies are going above and beyond what the CVAA requires, not because they have to, but because video games are a greater part of the entertainment we reach for. With one in five people in the U.S. having a disability, not including some accessibility means you may be leaving a lot of fans on the sidelines.”

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