August 1, 2014

DOJ Regulation Proposes New Closed Captioning Requirements

Holland & Knight Regulatory Litigation Blog
Lynn E. Calkins | Christine N. Walz

The Department of Justice has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that will establish new closed captioning requirements for movie theaters. 

This proposed rule has been issued under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits public accommodations from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. Current Department of Justice regulations require that covered entities ensure effective communication with individuals with disabilities and identify open captioning, closed captioning, and audio recordings, as examples of auxiliary aids and services to assist communications.

The proposed rule contains the following requirements: 

  • Movie theaters with digital screens must exhibit movies with closed captioning and audio descriptions at all times and for all showings whenever movies are produced, distributed, or otherwise made available with captioning and audio descriptions, unless doing so would result in an undue burden or fundamental alteration. This requirement would be in effect six months after the date of the publication of the rule. 
  • Movie theaters would be required to have a certain number of individual closed captioning and audio description devices capable of delivering the captions at the seat of the individual and to provide them to patrons upon request, unless doing so would result in an undue burden or fundamental alteration.
  • Movie theaters would be required to ensure that their staff has the capability to operate the equipment to show captions and audio description and to show patrons how to use individual devices.
  • Movie theaters would be required to provide the public with notice about the availability of captions and audio description.

The proposed rule does not propose a specific compliance date for analog screens (those exhibiting movies in the traditional form of 35 mm film). Instead, it seeks public comment on whether the final rule should have a delayed compliance date for analog screens four years from the publication of the final rule or whether rulemaking on analog screens should be delayed until a later date. 

The proposed rule also does not require movie theaters to create their own captioning or audio descriptions for movies. However, whenever the movies are produced and distributed with these accessibility features, movie theaters would be required to ensure that they obtain and screen the versions with these features. 

The rule is open for comment until September 30, 2014. Like all accessibility requirements, once the final rule becomes effective, it will likely result in enforcement actions and private litigation over the requirements. Therefore, those affected by the rule should review it in detail and determine whether comments to shape the final rule are appropriate.

Holland & Knight lawyers have extensive experience dealing with federal accessibility laws, including the ADA, and can provide comprehensive guidance on responding to this and other federal regulations. 

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