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Closed Captioning To Be Required in Public Accommodations

Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1, West Seattle and South Park), along with her Council colleagues, passed an ordinance in a 8-0 vote that requires businesses with televisions in public places to turn on closed captioning.  

Council Bill 119487 requires any business that owns or manages a public place, such as restaurants, bars, hotel lobbies, lunch rooms, stadiums and sports arenas, retail establishments and others to activate closed captioning on televisions during business hours.

Closed captioning not only benefits those who are Deaf or hard of hearing, but also the elderly, people learning English as a second language, and people with learning disabilities, attention deficits and autism.

“It’s important to shift the onus from having to request closed captions as a public accommodation to instead create the expectation that folks have it in advance,” said Councilmember Herbold. “I especially want to thank Seattle Commission for People with DisAbilities for bringing this issue to my attention, and for making this a top priority in their workplan to support development of this ordinance.”

The closed captioning requirement exempts businesses without televisions or televisions that don’t have the technical capabilities to show closed captioning, or a television program that doesn’t have closed captioning available.

Seattle’s Commission for People with DisAbilities asked the Council to address the use of closed captioning in places of public accommodation. Eric Scheir, the Commission’s co-chair, presented to the Council about closed captioning in the Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development and Arts Committee in January. The Committee discussed the legislation on March 26 and passed the proposed legislation out of committee on April 9.

“With this ordinance, our communities will now have the same access as everyone else watching TV in public,” said Eric Scheir, co-chair of the Seattle Commission for People with DisAbilities and an advocate who spearheaded the effort. “In addition to people with disabilities, other benefits of closed captioning includes access for non-native speakers, viewers in sound-sensitive or noisy environments, and programming where dialog is heavily accented, mumbled, or obscured. There are many people who depend on captions but don’t have equal access to information. They may stay home to watch a baseball or football game, but turning captions on will increase patronage to restaurants and bars and help the business itself.”

“Having captions on televisions in public places is critical for people with hearing loss.  Imagine never knowing what people are saying, when the crowd around you is reacting. The person with hearing loss is left to wonder what it was on the television that precipitated that response – and why.  Captions would allow everyone to have access to what is being said,”  said Cynthia Stewart, President with the Hearing Loss Association—Washington. “The Hearing Loss Association – WA is very grateful to the City of Seattle for establishing this mandate.”

Councilmember Herbold conducted outreach with the business community while drafting the legislation, and listened to concerns of the business community when drafting amendments to the legislation.

“I want to thank Councilmember Herbold and the committee for their work on this ordinance that expands access for all in the City to television programming. I also want to thank Councilmember Herbold for listening to the concerns of our coalition in drafting the amendments,” said John Engber, Director of the Retail Industry Coalition of Seattle.

The Seattle Office of Civil Rights is tasked with enforcing the ordinance.

Other cities and states with closed captioning laws include Portland, San Francisco, the State of Maryland and Ann Arbor, Michigan among others.

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