Seattle passes ordinance requiring closed captioning on public TVs

Three weeks ago, the Seattle City Council passed an ordinance that requires people owning or managing a place of public accommodations to turn on closed captioning on televisions.

[Image of ordinance. It reads, “‘CITY OF SEATTLE: ORDINANCE 125805, COUNCIL BILL 119487.’ AN ORDINANCE relating to public accommodations; requiring persons owning or managing a place of public accommodations to activate closed captioning on television receivers; and adding a new Chapter 14.05 to the Seattle Municipal Code.”]

A Deaf man, Eric Scheir, who is the Co-Chair of the Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities, said he led the effort to write the bill and pass it.

ERIC SCHIER: To make this bill successful, we must research, gather data and compare it with other city and states that have their own data. With their data, we can determine what best fits this city of Seattle.

Alex: He explained that he worked with the commission to reach out to local business leaders to answer questions and concerns and to push for accessibility.

Scheir: Get everyone involved. If you want your city to provide captions, I encourage you all to be involved whether it’s as an elected representative on a committee, a board or whatever your city calls them. Get involved then try to replicate our bill. Ours is public information and is available on the internet. Replicate the bill then adjust it so it fits the needs of your city, then work with your city council or townspeople or with the mayor. Whichever works for you to pass the bill. That’s the best way, really. Instead of protesting and making demands for captioning, these do not work. It’s best to get involved in politics, get involved in a political group and make it happen. It works.

Alex: The ordinance is in effect now, but there is a six-month grace period before it is enforced. This period of time is to ensure there is enough time to educate business leaders, including various communities who speak a different language, about the new rules.

After six months — in October — businesses who don’t turn on CC will receive a letter or email from the Director of the Seattle Office for Civil Rights. They then will have 30 days to respond and remedy the issue or face potential fines up to $300.

The ordinance text pointed to a similar ordinance already passed in Portland, Oregon as an example.

[Text: “WHEREAS, The Commission for People with disAbilites agrees with the findings of the City Council of Portland, Oregon in adopting Ordinance 187454… which requires activating closed captioning, where available, on televisions used in places of public accommodation…”]

Schier explained that Seattle added more specifications to their ordinance by requiring that the captions have a black background color, white text size of 24, and specific fonts. He said this was to prevent venues from choosing transparent captions to “get around” the rules, which was an issue in Portland.

Scheir said he recently went to a restaurant in Seattle with his husband and was pleased to see captioning on the TVs and thanked the staff.

Scheir: It’s very critical that when you walk into a business and see that the captions are on. It’s important to acknowledge people who work there and thank them for providing the captions. They’ll appreciate that and this will increase the patronage thus their business.

Now, Scheir hopes to make this ordinance into a statewide law.

Scheir: Right now, with this bill, I’m working with my colleague who is a state representative for the state of Washington with the goal of implementing this bill statewide. We have several cities in the state who are having issues with not providing captioning and aren’t able to pass the bill on their own. It depends on who’s on the councils. If we do this on the state level, it would require the whole state to provide captions.

Schier said he’s received questions about this becoming federal law, but he is focusing on achieving his goals one step at a time.

Another Deaf activist who lives in Seattle, Melissa echo Greenlee, who started “Deaffriendly,” gave some thoughts on the ordinance.

“This is a huge win for Deaf and hard of hearing people in the city of Seattle. Not only will Deaf and hard of hearing people have access to information like their peers, but businesses will start to understand over time that this bill impacts them positively too”

Greenlee explained that she noticed there were many people who complained about the new rule, but she said it is because of ignorance and that she doesn’t have a lot of time or space for people who put their own privileged comfort above Deaf and hard of hearing people’s access to information.

She said captioning on TVs will allow Deaf and hard of hearing people to have access to major world news at the same time as others and be able to connect with others.

Thank you two for your time and comments.

The link to the ordinance is in the transcript. Maybe you can consider proposing this in your local community.

Ordinance text: