Netflix in Violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Melanie Gross
Jun 20, 2011
Updated • Dec 5, 2012
Internet, Video

The National Association of the Deaf has sued Netflix, the movie rental company that offers it’s videos via the mail and by online instant access. The NAD is suing them for failure to offer subtitles on enough of its streaming content.

The lawsuit was filed last Thursday in U.S District Court of Massachusetts. The NAD feels that Netflix has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by not providing captions for most of its “watch instantly” move and television content.

There are over 36 million Americans alone who are deaf or hard of hearing. According to the National Association of the Deaf, many of these people have already brought this issue to the attention of Netflix by sending letters, writing blogs and signing petitions that urge the site to provide equal access to its streaming content. The group says that Netflix, despite all of the complaints and requests by NAD members, has so far only set up captions on a small number of the overall titles on its “watch instantly” service.
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that “places of entertainment” provide “full and equal enjoyment” for people with disabilities, says NAD. They are asking the court to declare Netflix in violation of the Act and are hoping the court orders the company to provide captions on all streaming content. NAD President Bobbie Beth Scoggins made this statement:

“We have tried for years to persuade Netflix to do the right thing and provide equal access to all content across all platforms. They chose not to serve our community on an equal basis; we must have equal access to the biggest provider of streamed entertainment. As Netflix itself acknowledges, streamed video is the future and we must not be left out.”

There is some question as to whether or not Netflix has truly been ignoring this community’s need and it should be interesting to see what comes to light during this case. In a blog post back in February (long before the lawsuit), Neil Hunt, the company’s chief product officer, said that about 30% of the streaming content available at Netflix had subtitles available and that he expected to see an increase of up to 80% by the end of this year. Much earlier, in a blog post from 2009, Hunt had suggested that there were technical difficulties challenging their progress with subtitles.

The NAD lawsuit contends that the process of captioning is both technically possible and relatively simple to achieve.
It remains to be seen how the courts will rule on this case. Netflix is not a traditional “place” such as a video store you can walk into or a theater. So does it constitute a place of entertainment under the law? Netflix is an online business and one has to wonder if the courts will rule that it comes under the jurisdiction of the ADA or not. Either way, one certainly hopes they endeavor to make all of their products easily accessible to the NAD community.


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  1. Richard Roehm said on June 22, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    Deaf Hacker Analysis On Eye Fire Vlogs Website Hack Attack (OPEN CAPTIONED)

  2. crister said on June 20, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    As a blind individual, I would like nothing more than to have audio described content made available on Netlix, but that aside, I’d just be happy with being able to have a reasonably accessible way to stream television series and movies. Right now, all a visually impaired person can really do is start and stop the stream. Rewind, fastforward, volume control etc. are pretty much a no go.

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