January 18, 2016 By Adam Grover

At the Tipping Point

ADA and closed captioning

In a market economy consumer demand drives corporate action.

Take closed captioning as an example. For the last 25 years, the U.S. government has defined and enforced laws around the accessibility of video content. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which many believe mandated accessible media in the same way it requires ramps on buildings, became law in 1990. Yet without the hard work of thousands of disability rights advocates, the ADA would probably never have come about.

In the same way that this legislation changed the design of buildings so that the disabled had equal access, recent litigation has been strengthening the legal foundation of the ADA in order to improve the lives of the deaf and hearing impaired. Many of these court cases have been aimed squarely at the Internet, which remains primarily unregulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

It’s important to note that current law doesn’t require closed captioning of Internet video content unless it was previously aired on broadcast TV. Recently disability rights advocates have been using litigation to force companies to take the next step—to caption all Internet content. For example:

  • The National Association of the Deaf, et al. v. Netflix settled out of court in 2012 when Netflix agreed to caption their backlog of video content.
  • Harvard and M.I.T. are in the thick of a class action lawsuit to caption all of their online content.
  • Feeling the public pressure, just agreed to closed caption their considerable video library.

If you distill a quarter of a century of legislation into one common theme, you could say that the media we are so fond of viewing should be available and consumable by everyone—including by the hearing impaired. This includes video content on the Internet, of course, whether it is codified by law or not.

It seems we at the tipping point where closed captioning of online content is moving beyond what is federally mandated and into the realm of voluntary compliance. Business and organizations around the country are hearing the clamor of nearly 50 million Americans who are demanding equal access. They recognize the bottom line on this issue— leaving out closed captioning in your video content is just as detrimental as leaving ramps off your sidewalk.

Adam Grover

Adam Grover is the CEO of CaptionLabs. He brought the company to life in 2005, with the goal of making media more accessible. While Adam is a visionary entrepreneur, he also understands the importance of client partnerships. He’s particularly proud of our client retention rate—which is near 100%. Adam still makes himself available to our customers whenever they call. That one-on-one approach, which we call our “Midwest Attitude” is still what sets us apart.

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