What are the deadlines for closed captioning of all television programming?

Long before educational entities began to use computers, the web, and streaming multimedia, they enriched curriculum with live or recorded television programming. This early use of information technology was also an early barrier for students and staff with disabilities, particularly those who were deaf or hard of hearing. Significant legislative steps have helped to reduce this barrier but have not yet eliminated it.

One significant step toward removing this barrier occurred in 1990 with the passage of the Television Decoder Circuitry Act. This act requires that television sets with screens thirteen inches or larger manufactured for sale in the United States have built-in closed-caption decoder circuitry that allows viewers to display closed captions on their sets. The deadline for compliance with this act was July 1993.

This step addressed the problem in terms of television hardware, but the problem of available captioned programming remained. A television that is capable of displaying closed captions does nothing to improve accessibility for hearing-impaired students if the programming content is not captioned. A significant step toward addressing this problem occurred with the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Section 713 of that act requires that video program distributors (cable operators, broadcasters, and satellite distributors) phase in closed captioning of their television programs. The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) is charged with prescribing such regulations as are necessary to implement this section, including a schedule of deadlines. FCC deadlines include the following:

  • 100% of new English-language programming must be captioned by 2006 (with some exemptions).
  • 75% of pre-rule programming (i.e., programming first shown before January 1, 1998) must be captioned by 2008.
  • 100% of new Spanish-language programming must be captioned by 2010 (with some exemptions).

The complete set of deadlines, plus benchmarks en route to meeting these deadlines, is available on the FCC Consumer Facts Closed Captioning page.