Portland Makes Closed Captioning on Public TVs Mandatory

December 29, 2015 BY EMILY GRIFFIN
Updated: December 6, 2021

Portland, Oregon made history this month by becoming the first American city to require all televisions in public spaces to display closed captioning.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) already requires accommodations for people with disabilities in public spaces, as evidenced by handicapped ramps, braille signs, etc. Under the ADA, any establishment open to the public should display closed captions on their television if a person with a disability requests it.

The new Portland ordinance removes the burden of having to request captions; they will be on by default.

The city passed ordinance PCC 23.01.075 last month, and it went into effect on December 18, 2015. Businesses that do not comply may be subject to a $500 fine from the city.

This measure resulted from advocacy by the group Portland: Turn On The Captions Now!

David S. Viers, a deaf Portlandian and advocate, wrote an empassioned letter to city council in favor of captions. He explained that the ordinance’s intent is not to punish or burden businesses (displaying captions is a cost-free and painless gesture), but rather to ensure full inclusion of people with hearing disabilities.

In his letter, he illustrated his experience as a deaf person in a restaurant with TVs:

“You have no way of knowing what’s happening because you can’t understand what is being said on the television. You cannot even effectively ask another patron because of your hearing loss and the noise in that kind of environment. However, if the captions were turned on, you would likely be getting the same information as everyone else.

Please recognize that you and/or a friend/loved one could be facing exactly this same situation — if not today, then in the future. The incidence of hearing loss is a condition that tends to increase substantially with age. The ordinance before you will benefit numerous people — maybe even you at some point.”

Portland city council passed the measure unanimously. It was also endorsed by the Portland Commission on Disability, the Office of Community Technology, Oregon Communication Access Project, the Oregon Association of the Deaf, and the local and state chapters of the national Hearing Loss Association of America.

The Portland: Turn On The Captions Now! group published a website with specific instructions for turning on closed captions. It also advises Portland residents on how to request captions if they spot noncompliance.

Finally, the group points out that captions benefit many more people than just the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. People learning English as a second language and people with autism are just a few examples.

Learn more about the benefits of closed captioning and video transcription from our free white paper:

8 Benefits of Transcribing & Captioning Online Video

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