The National Association of the Deaf filed a discrimination lawsuit Thursday against Netflix for failing to provide closed captioning in many of its movies and television shows available on its website to “Watch Instantly.”
This lawsuit, filed along with the Western Massachusetts Association of the Deaf and Hearing Impaired, argues that Netflix’s video streaming services are required under the Americans with Disabilities Act to be accessible to people with disabilities because the internet is legally classified as a “place of public accommodation.” Categories typically classified as public accommodations include “place[s] of exhibition and entertainment,” “place[s] of recreation,” “sales or rental establishment,” and “service establishments.”
“While streaming provides more access to entertainment to the general public, it threatens to be yet another barrier to people who are deaf and hard of hearing. Watching, sharing and talking about movies is a great American pastime,” according to the complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. “Plaintiffs and their members not only want to see the movies, but, like the rest of society, want to share the experience with their families, friends and co-workers. The lack of captions intrudes on this ability in a way that increases the sense of isolation and stigma that the ADA was intended to eliminate.”
According to the lawsuit, Netflix announced February 24 that its “Watch Instantly” inventory would expand to 3,500 movie and television titles, with closed captioning available for 80 percent of those titles by the end of 2011. As of June 14, fewer than half of those titles had closed captioning.
Netflix’s “Watch Instantly” option allows customers to automatically stream videos onto their computers, as opposed to ordering them through the mail. Because many of the videos are unavailable to “Watch Instantly,” people with disabilities are required to pay a more expensive subscription to order DVDs, and therefore fully access Netflix’s services. The lawsuit argues that this price difference is similar to a “deaf tax,” and thus violates the ADA.
Closed captioning is a viewer-enabled function that allows people who are deaf or hard of hearing to read text along with a movie or television show, as opposed to open captioning, where the subtitles are automatically enabled.
Netflix has more than 20 million subscribers nationwide and contains a more than 60 percent of the industry market share for streamed video services.