At the request of the Electronic Software Association, the Federal Communications Commission has extended an existing waiver that temporarily makes video games exempt from the accessibility requirements set forth in the Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010.
This marks the third time video games have been given temporary exemption since 2012, but the FCC says it has granted this latest extension under the understanding that this latest waiver request will be its last.
As explained by video game accessibility specialist Ian Hamilton, the area of CVAA that applies to games deals solely with communication. As such, the requirements don’t necessarily mean that games in general must become fully accessible. Rather, the CVAA requires any communication functionality like in-game chat and any UI used to navigate and operate communications functionality must be accessible to people of varying sight, motor, speech, cognitive, and hearing ability. Those stipulations are fully explained under section 14.21 here.
In the waiver request, the ESA argues that the extension is necessary since “the unique nature of video game software continues to create correspondingly unique technical challenges to applying Advanced Communications Services accessibility solutions.”
The FCC agreed to extend the waiver until December 31, 2018, meaning any game released after this date must be compliant, unless they can prove to the FCC that it would not be feasible for them to do so given the "effort and expense needed to achieve accessibility at that point in the development stage." Games that are part way through development when the waiver expires will then be able to take its stage of development into account when considering that feasibility.
While the FCC did agree to extend the waiver until December 31, 2018, it did note that a number of games like Splatoon 2 and Minecraft have introduced accessible communication options through either smartphone apps or text-to-speech tools. In its eyes, those features prove that the industry is making progress on the accessibility front and that the final one-year extension should then be sufficient.
The ESA itself also notes that communication between video game developers and accessibility advocates have increased in the past year, something the FCC says further reinforces its decision.
The FCC says that the waiver extension period is to will allow game developers and companies additional time to “work on solutions designed to eliminate [advanced communications services] accessibility barriers, and for this purpose will continue engaging with the disability community.”