The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that public programs and services, including educational institutions and opportunities, be accessible to people with disabilities. For example, with captions, the content of a videotape shown in a course might be made accessible to a person who is deaf. If the product is not captioned, access to the content would need to be provided in another way, perhaps with a sign language interpreter. Similarly, if a person who is blind is enrolled in a course, the essential content that is presented visually could be spoken by the narrator, other speakers, or the instructor, or audio description could be provided as part of the product.

The Television Decoder Circuitry Act requires that all television sets with screens 13 inches or larger manufactured for sale in the United States must have built-in closed-caption decoders. This Act has made it possible for millions of people to display closed-captioned televised materials in their homes, workplaces, and schools.

Section 713 of the Telecommunication Act resulted in many changes in the broadcast and cable television industries. Among other things, it charged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create mandates to increase the percentage of television programming that is captioned. It has published rules and set guidelines for increasing the number of captioned programs.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that the federal government develop, procure, maintain, and use electronic and informational technology that is accessible to people with disabilities. In the 508 guidelines that were developed by the Access Board and became effective in 2001, all training and informational video productions that impart an agency's mission must contain captions for speech or other audio information necessary for the comprehension of the content, and critical visual content must be audio-described. Although the standards were developed for the federal government, additional legislation and voluntary compliance have extended their impact beyond federal agencies.