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Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Redskins' Latest Woe: Closed Captioning Lawsuit Filed

The WSJ Law Blog unearths this tidbit from the Washington Post:
The National Association of the Deaf has filed a lawsuit against the Washington Redskins to get team officials to offer closed-captioning for the deaf and hearing-impaired at FedEx Field.

The class-action suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, says the team is in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act for failing to provide captioning during games.

* * *

The complaint was filed Aug. 31 on behalf of three fans from Maryland who regularly attend home games. It asks the court to order the Redskins and FedEx Field officials to provide and display captioning on scoreboards and video monitors for all announcements, plays and penalties called during the game.

"I am a lifelong die-hard Redskins fan and I love watching the Redskins play at FedEx Field," Shane Feldman of Silver Spring said in a statement. "But I miss out on the total game experience because I cannot hear the information announced on the public address system. Providing captioning is not rocket science; it is simple, and it is the right thing to do."
A Redskins spokesman says that the team is exploring closed captioning technolgoies "even though NFL teams are not required by law to offer closed-captioning in the stadium." I'm not so sure that the NFL is giving its teams good advice about the ADA on that point. What is the basis for its claim that Title III of the ADA wouldn't require closed captioning? There has been extensive litigation and commentary on whether the ADA mandates particular "lines of sight" for wheelchair bound fans at sports arenas. See, e.g., Adam A. Milani, "Oh Say, Can I See--And Who Do I Sue If I Can't?": Wheelchair Users, Sightlines over Standing Spectators, and Architect Liability Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 52 FLORIDA LAW REVIEW 523 (2000). None of this law, that I'm aware of at least, would immunize the NFL from a Title III (public accomodations) suit under the ADA. "Reasonable modifications" must be made if they would not amount of a "fundamental alternation" of the services provided, and a stadiums are explicitly covered under the definition of "public accomodation." After all, the ADA regulations provide:
A public accommodation shall take those steps that may be necessary to ensure that no individual with a disability is excluded, denied services, segregated or otherwise treated differently than other individuals because of the absence of auxiliary aids and services, unless the public accommodation can demonstrate that taking those steps would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations being offered or would result in an undue burden, i.e., significant difficulty or expense.

The case was filed by Joseph B. Espo, an attorney with Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP in Baltimore, Maryland, according to the NAD's August 31 press release. There is some discussion of the technical issues involved in closed captioning in the comments section on the Deaf DC Blog here.


Uh, yeah, and should a limo be provided as well as free drinks, individual seats, and someone to hold the umbrella when it rains?

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/20/2006 5:25 PM  

How about buying a game program? Or, better yet, how about watching the big screen for the replay? There has got to be some sort of personal responsibility here--this is clearly an attempt to extort money from the team.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/20/2006 5:51 PM  

First of all, if this gentleman does not have to listen to the nonsense being blared at the crowd over the PA sytstem in FedEx Field, he is very fortunate indeed. But I don't think the ADA takes that kind of good fortune into consideration; he probably has a good case.

Remember when the golf people tried to claim that the rules of golf superceded the ADA in the Casey Martin suit? Remember how that turned out?

Anonymous The Sports Curmudgeon -- 9/21/2006 4:19 PM  

At least in the 5th Circuit, equal access does not mean equal enjoyment.

A pretty good article on whether movie theater operators are obligated to provide deaf people the technology required in order to show closed or open captioned movies as a form of access under Title III of the ADA:

23 J. Marshall J. Computer & Info. L. 159 (2004)

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/21/2006 6:20 PM  

Someone has a chip on his shoulder. What about an NFL game, seen live, needs captioning?

Penalties? No, that's what the refs signals are for. I've known the refs signals since I was about 5 years old.

Replays? There's no play-by-play in the stadium anyway.

Scores? Duh.

I'm not unsympathetic to the disabled -- but don't the accommodations have to be "reasonable"? What is the plaintiff's real motive here?
Is it to make an example of a high profile organization?

Surely the National Association of the Deaf has better things to do than worry about hearing-impaired spectators at an event that is almost entirely visual.

Now if they are complaining that hearing-impaired people won't know the PA announcer just yelled "There's a bomb. Please move safely to the exits" then I can understand.

Blogger ChapelHeel -- 9/25/2006 8:08 AM  

ChapelHeel pretty much summed it up well. The real motive is money for the plaintiffs and the attorneys. It's not to change anything for real. Don't kid yourself. Personally, I think the deaf should have mandatory NFL referee penalty signal training as a prerequisite to attend.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/25/2006 11:28 AM  

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