National Association of the Deaf

Television and Closed Captioning

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The role of television in American society is broad. From provision of news and entertainment, to the delivery of education, to broadcasting emergency information, television is a staple in the typical American household and in many public venues. Television programming is no longer limited only to the “tube” and is increasingly available online through streaming apps as well as on webpages.

The passage of the Television Decoder Circuitry Act in 1990, and the mandate for closed captioning of television programming illustrate the growing trend toward equal access to television for deaf and hard of hearing viewers.

The NAD worked successfully with Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to establish captioning rules for video programming distributors (television broadcasters and multichannel video program distributors, such as cable, satellite, and other subscription television services). Since 2006, all new, non-exempt, English-language television programming must be closed captioned.

Moreover, we helped pass the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 which requires programs first shown on television with captions to be captioned when later shown online.

In 2012, the Federal District Court in Massachusetts ruled in NAD v. Netflix that under the ADA, online only businesses may not discriminate against people with disabilities. Thus requiring Netflix to make its online streaming content accessible.   

The NAD continues to advocate for the following:

  • All pre-recorded television programming, including commercials, to be closed captioned 24 hours a day, seven days a week, regardless of program content.
  • All live television programming, such as talk shows or news broadcasts, to be captioned by means of real-time captioning technology and services.
  • Access to emergency broadcasts, including weather bulletins, through real-time captioning technology and services.
  • The display of closed captions at all times on all televisions located in public places, such as waiting rooms, lounges, restaurants, and passenger terminals.

Recent NAD Action Highlights

  • Ongoing advocacy with the FCC to issue rules to improve caption quality and to improve monitoring and enforcement of the closed captioning rules. The FCC recently enacted quality standards for closed captioning. 

  • Ongoing advocacy with the FCC to abolish certain TV closed captioning exemptions such as for late-night programming.

  • Opposed through advocacy with the FCC dozens of exemption requests to television closed captioning rules. 

  • Apple committed to working with the NAD to caption their iTunes Movies and TV Shows, with 100% captioned by 2015.

  • Netflix and the NAD reached a historic agreement to provide 100% closed captions in on-demand streaming content by 2014.

  • The FCC recently decided that staring in January 2016, online video clips of content shown on television with captions are covered under the IP closed captioning rules.
  • Ongoing advocacy through FCC rules to make it easier to access the closed captioning control on devices and digital apparatus (i.e. the need for a CC button).

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National Association of the Deaf | 8630 Fenton Street, Suite 820, Silver Spring, MD 20910-3819