VR Lawsuit Filed Due to Lack of Captions
Updated: March 9, 2021
Dylan Panarra attempted to use Viveport Infinity, a VR gaming service by HTC Corporation, and realized it lacked something important: captions. Because Panarra is deaf, the lack of captions didn’t allow for equal access to the VR service.
On November 18, 2020, Panarra filed a civil rights suit (Panarra v. HTC Corporation et al.) in the New York Western District Court against HTC Corporation, citing violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Panarra, the plaintiff, will be represented by Eisenberg & Baum, a firm that has a Law Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
The official case number is 6:20-cv-06991.
What is VR?
VR is the short-hand term for virtual reality, which is a computer-generated simulation. VR technology creates an artificial, three-dimensional environment to interact with using electronic tools, such as VR goggles. Augmented reality and mixed-reality fall under the umbrella of virtual reality.
Viveport Infinity, the VR service in question, is an unlimited VR subscription service providing access to virtual reality content, including games, apps, and videos. The service is the first of its kind. However, the lack of captions for audio content reveals a real need for accessibility improvements.
Accessibility is not something corporations can put on the back burner. Tech industry giants, such as Apple, Google, and Microsoft, keep inclusive design at the forefront and seamlessly bake-in accessibility features into core products. As market leaders, these brands show that accessibility is worth prioritizing now and in the future.
The ADA and Captioning Requirements
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into US law three decades ago, is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. The act and its amendments guarantee equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation. Both public and private entities are affected by the ADA.
The ADA and Online Video
Learn more about the ADA through the lens of online video accessibility. Gain insight into ADA developments, resources, and guidance for anyone using online video on a large scale.
Effective communication rules ensure that a “person with a vision, hearing, or speech disability can communicate with, receive information from, and convey information to, the covered entity.” Title II and Title III of the ADA require that State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations communicate effectively with people with communication disabilities by providing auxiliary aids. Captions for audio and video content, which may include VR content, are an auxiliary aid intended to ensure effective communication for deaf and hard-of-hearing people.
At this time, the ADA doesn’t specifically address online video. However, a legal precedent set by a 2012 lawsuit categorized Netflix, a purely virtual business, as a “place of public accommodation” and therefore required video captioning under the ADA.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has also publicly stated that it interprets Title III of the ADA to apply to the goods and services websites that fall within the 12 categories of “public accommodations.” As one of those categories is a place of exhibition or entertainment, the ADA may well require online VR services to follow effective communication and captioning rules under the ADA.
Why Panarra v. HTC Corporation Is Significant
The Panarra v. HTC Corporation case is early on, yet its significance is worth noting. According to Sheri Byrne-Haber, CPACC and Accessibility Architect at VMware, the case stands out due to several factors: The plaintiff is not a serial plaintiff,and the firm representing Panarra has a specialty in disability rights, particularly for deaf and hard of hearing people. The facts at hand strongly suggest the plaintiff and the representing firm seek real change for digital accessibility requirements rather than a high-paying settlement.
This case could become a landmark for the digital accessibility landscape and provide much-needed guidance around digital technology captioning requirements, such as for VR content.
Want to learn more about how the ADA impacts video accessibility? Check out our free seven-page brief that examines the ADA through the lens of online video accessibility.
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