CNN/CNN.com has been sued in an Alameda, CA County lawsuit 6/15 for discriminating against the hard-of-hearing by failing to provide closed captions for videos posted on the Internet, reports The San Francisco Chronicle. CNN.com displays hundreds of short news and information videos at any given time. Some have appeared on television with closed captions available for the hearing-impaired, but they carry no captions online, the suit said.
By not offering users the captioning it provides to its television audience, it “excludes Californians who are deaf or hard of hearing from a wealth of critical information regarding current events,” said the suit, a proposed class action in Superior Court on behalf of the state’s hearing-impaired residents.
More than 100,000 Californians are functionally deaf, the suit also said.
This is the first suit of its kind in the nation to seek equal treatment for the deaf from a commercial content provider on the Internet, said the paper.
“The era of waiting for the 6 o’clock news is over,” said plaintiff Daniel Jacob, an information technology specialist at a counseling agency for the deaf in San Leandro. “I simply want an equal opportunity to view news videos on CNN.com’s website at my convenience like most people can.”
The refusal of Time Warner, CNN’s owner, to offer closed captions is “astounding, given how central the Internet is in today’s communication environment,” said attorney Anna Levine of Disability Rights Advocates in Berkeley.
CNN.com is one of the largest sources for online news and gets tens of millions of visits per day. On one single day in March after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, 67 million people viewed the site, the suit said.
Instead, CNN.com provides a written text for each video. The suit claims Time Warner is violating California’s disability and civil rights laws. It seeks court orders requiring closed captioning and unspecified damages.
RBR-TVBR observation: As more and more Americans get their news online, the need for closed captioning increases. Most likely, CNN and other sites like it will eventually provide the closed captioning, but it is expensive. The videos are often not just a simulcast of what’s airing on TV and where the simulcasting does occur, it may be hard to see the type. Providing text for each video will likely keep CNN.com on the right side of any ruling, but the demand for full closed captioning is obviously there from the hearing impaired. Certainly, a sponsor could be found to support the added cost, which may also mean a re-vamping of the site to offer larger closed captioning text below the videos.