Amid all the Americans with Disabilities Act anniversary celebrations last week, it’s worth noting that the U.S. House passed a bill that’s crucial to the deaf and hard of hearing population. H.R. 3101 would extend protections from the Telecommunications Act of 1996 — the law that made closed captioning on T.V. mandatory — to the Internet.
H.R. 3101 requires, with few exceptions, any T.V., cable or satellite program that airs with closed-captions to be also captioned on the Web. It encompasses websites like Hulu.com (owned by NBC) and ABC.com. Captions must be displayed on all devices that show television programs, regardless of size, which includes smart phones like the iPhone.
Unfortunately, H.R. 3101, which is also known as also known as the 21st Century Telecommunications and Video Accessibility Act, has been watered down from its original version. No longer will web-exclusive programming be required to have captions. Exempt from the bill are new networks like TheWB.com and Crackle.com, which create entertainment for mobile devices and smart phones.
Movie lovers are out of luck, too. H.R. 3101 does not cover services like Netflix that offer on-demand streaming movies and T.V. programs, such as Lost and The Sopranos, over the Internet. “Netflix is out of jurisdiction [for this bill],” says Rosaline Crawford, a director at the National Association for the Deaf. NAD, an advocacy group, is part of the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology, which is pushing for H.R. 3101 and other captioning initiatives.
However, the Department of Justice, which regulates the ADA, is considering requiring public and private websites — including retailers and other e-commerce sites — to be accessible to individuals with disabilities.
“It will be interesting to see how [these new] regulations for public accommodations … will apply to Netflix,” Crawford says.
In the meantime, the Senate is currently considering a different –- albeit, weaker –- version of the bill. It’s called S 3304. There’s a push underway to persuade the Senate to adopt H.R. 3101 instead. That’s because the House version includes language that would require the Federal Communications Commission to consider adopting captioning rules for Internet-exclusive programs three years after the bill becomes law.
For more details, including how to contact U.S. Senators, contact the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology or the National Association of the Deaf. You can also contact Netflix and ask the company to expedite captions for its online movies and T.V. programs.