June 17, 2011 / 10:36 PM / 9 years ago

Netflix, Time warner sued by U.S. deaf groups

NEW YORK, June 17 (Reuters) - An advocacy group for deaf Americans sued Netflix (NFLX.O) on Friday for failing to provide closed captioning on its streaming online television and movies.

The National Association of the Deaf, in a lawsuit filed in Massachusetts federal court, accused Netflix of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by not providing the deaf with equal access to its “watch instantly” digital video.

“While streaming (video) 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,” the lawsuit said.

Another advocacy group and three individuals filed a separate suit on Wenesday against Time Warner TWX.N. Both lawsuits seek injunctions requiring the companies to provide closed captions on all streaming video content.

The suit filed on Friday said Netflix provides captions on less than 5 percent of its streaming titles, despite repeated requests from the association dating back to 2009.

“We’re aware of and sensitive to the concern,” said Netflix spokesman Steve Swasey, adding that for several years the company has communicated its progress on the issue of closed captioning on its website.

In 2009, Netflix Chief Product Officer Neil Hunt reported on the company blog that technological difficulties were hindering its attempt to add captions to streaming video. The advocacy group argued that captioning is technically possible, pointing to titles already captioned.

“For people who are deaf and hard of hearing, captions are like ramps for people who use wheelchairs,” the group’s lawyer Arlene Mayerson in a statement.

U.S. law requires public buildings to provide ramps for wheelchair access. The suit noted that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that “places of entertainment” provide “full and equal enjoyment” for people with disabilities.

The suit says that by failing to provide captions, Netflix, the leading U.S. provider of on-demand video, increases the sense of isolation and stigma suffered by people with hearing impairments.

On Wednesday, the Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness (GLAD) and three individuals sued Time Warner Inc in California state court for refusing to caption its online news videos at CNN.com. Although many of the videos on CNN.com are accompanied by text, the script seldom matches the content of the video and is not a substitute for captioning, the suit said.

Time Warner and CNN did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reporting by Terry Baynes; Editing by David Gregorio

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