Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Hulu Over a Lack of Audio Description and an Inaccessible Website
Updated: January 24, 2019
Today, a class action lawsuit was filed against online video streaming giant Hulu over accessibility issues on its website and online streaming service.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts by The American Council of the Blind, Bay State Council of the Blind, Disability Rights Advocates, and blind and visually impaired individuals. In their statement, the coalition of blind and visually impaired people and disability rights advocacy groups claim that Hulu discriminates against those who are blind and visually impaired by not providing audio description on any of their movies or TV shows.
Accessibility Complaints Named in the Suit
The statement asks Hulu for no monetary damages but requests equal access to Hulu’s services by offering audio description for blind and low vision users.
Audio description (also known as descriptive audio, video description, or just description) is a separate audio track that narrates critical visual information contained in the video so that blind viewers can understand what is going on. Other online streaming companies like Netflix and Amazon Video both offer audio description for most of their original movies and TV shows.
Additionally, the lawsuit claims that Hulu’s website and applications are not screen reader accessible. Screen readers are software programs that blind and visually impaired people use to navigate the internet. They convert visual content on the screen into audible, synthesized speech or a digital braille display.
What the Law Says about the ADA, Audio Description, and Websites
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prevents discrimination on the basis of disability and applies to places of “public accommodations.” The ADA was written before the world wide web existed and the term “public accommodations” has traditionally referred to physical structures.
More recently though, the ADA has been applied successfully in court cases where public websites and other digital environments were found to be inaccessible. Because the internet and many popular websites, applications, and a growing list of digital interfaces have become integral to experiencing and participating in contemporary life, more courts and top legal entities are stating that the ADA should apply to these areas.
In 2011, Netflix was sued for a lack of closed captions on their video content. The company lost the case and was ordered to caption all of its video content by 2014.
In 2015, MIT and Harvard were sued in the same District Court over inaccessible, and uncaptioned video content on their public, open course websites. The case remains in litigation.
So, while it is up to individual courts and judges to evaluate the ADA’s application to public websites and apps on a case-by-case basis, Hulu will likely have to build a very strong argument if they want to defend their case. It is worth noting, however, that Netflix lost a similar legal battle over a lack of closed captioning and has since been proactive about its audio description offerings.
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