The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has established accessibility requirements for televisions, set-top boxes, and similar devices manufactured, leased, or requested after December 20, 2016, that receive or play back video programming.

Which devices and which functions need to be accessible?

There are two categories of devices that need to be accessible.

  1. Devices designed to receive or play back video programming, such as televisions, as well as devices designed to receive or play back video programming over the Internet, such as personal computers, tablets, smartphones, and other devices with pre-installed video players or pre-installed applications for watching video programming.

Requirements: 

  • The following functions, if built into the device and provided as on-screen text menus or other visual indicators, must be audibly accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired, if achievable:
    • power on/off;
    • volume adjust and mute;
    • channel/program selection;
    • display of channel/program information;
    • setup options;
    • closed captioning control;
    • closed captioning display options;
    • video description control;
    • current configuration information;
    • playback controls (such as play, pause, rewind, fast forward, stop, and record); and
    • input source selection.
  • Any of these built-in functions that are not provided as on-screen text menus or other visual indicators must be made accessible by providing at least one mode that does not require user vision or color perception, and permits operation by users with low vision, without relying on audio output.
  • If closed captioning is built into the device, it must include a simple and easy-to-use method for activating closed captioning.
  • If video description is built into the device, it must include a simple and easy-to-use method for activating video description.
  1. Devices used to access subscription television services, including services provided by cable, satellite, and over telephone company fiber.  These types of devices include:
  • Devices that subscription television providers lease or sell to their subscribers, such as cable and satellite set-top boxes; and
  • Devices that manufacturers sell to consumers, such as devices with a built-in CableCARD slot or a pre-installed application to access subscription television services.

Requirements: 

  • The following functions, if built into the device and provided as on-screen text menus or guides, must be audibly accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired, if achievable:
    • channel/program selection;
    • display of channel/program information;
    • setup options; closed captioning control;
    • closed captioning display options;
    • video description control;
    • current configuration information;
    • playback controls (such as play, pause, rewind, fast forward, stop, and record); and
    • input source selection. 
  • The power on/off, volume adjust, and mute functions must be made accessible by providing at least one mode that does not require user vision or color perception, and permits operation by users with low vision, without relying on audio output.
  • If closed captioning is built into the device, it must include a simple and easy-to-use method for activating closed captioning.

Are there exceptions to these rules?

Yes.  For example, compliance is not required until December 20, 2018 for relatively small subscription television service operators and systems.  In addition, compliance with these accessibility requirements is not required until December 20, 2021 for display-only monitors and video projectors. 

How to acquire and use an accessible device.

Device manufacturers and subscription television service providers must provide notice on their websites about the availability of accessible devices.  They must identify a specific person, office, or entity who can answer questions about the availability of accessible devices.  They also must provide information to consumers or direct consumers to other sources of information about how to activate and use accessibility features.  If requested, they also must provide information and documentation, such as user guides, in an accessible format.

Consumers may also request accessible devices that access subscription television services from manufacturers and subscription television providers. Subscription television providers and manufacturers of devices that access subscription television services must provide notice on their websites about how individuals who are blind or visually impaired can request accessible devices.  The process for requesting and obtaining an accessible device must take about the same amount of time and cannot be more burdensome than the way other consumers obtain devices.  When sophisticated equipment or services are provided as an accessibility solution at no additional charge to the consumer, service providers and manufacturers are permitted to require an individual to provide documentation demonstrating that the individual is blind or visually impaired. 

Filing a complaint.

The FCC is updating its Consumer Complaint Center to permit filing complaints online about Television and Set-Top Box Controls, Menus, and Program Guides.  In the meantime, you may file a complaint by letter, phone, fax, or e-mail:

Federal Communications Commission
Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC  20554
Phone:  1-888-225-5322
TTY:  1-888-835-5322
Videophone:  1-844-432-2275
Fax:  202-418-0037
E-mail:  dro@fcc.gov

If you need assistance filing a complaint, you may also contact the FCC’s Disability Rights Office at dro@fcc.gov or by calling 202-418-2517 (voice), 888-835-5322 (TTY), or 1-844-432-2275 (videophone).

Your complaint should include the following information (if available):

  • Your name, address, and other contact information, such as telephone number and e-mail address;
  • The name and contact information of the device manufacturer or subscription television service;
  • Information about the device or software used;
  • The date or dates that you purchased, acquired, or used, or tried to purchase, acquire, or use the device;
  • A description of the accessibility problem and what would solve the accessibility problem;
  • How you would like the FCC to respond to you, such as by e-mail, letter, or telephone;
  • If your complaint is related to the accessibility of a device used for subscription television service, the date that you requested an accessible device, and the name of the company and the person you contacted; and
  • Any additional information you think is appropriate.

Print Out

Television and Set-Top Box Controls, Menus, and Program Guides (pdf)

Updated: 
Monday, December 19, 2016