In June, a Massachusetts judge ruled that a lawsuit can go forward against Netflix to provide captions for its Watch Instantly streaming content. Netflix hoped to get the suit, brought by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and others, thrown out of court. But Federal District Court Judge Michael Ponsor disagreed.
This decision is huge: it’s the first time a court has ruled that the ADA applies to web sites as places of public accommodation. Unlike the plaintiffs in previous cases (e.g., Target), Netflix has no brick-and-mortar stores: it is a web-only business.
What they said:
Judge Ponsor: “The legislative history of the ADA makes clear that Congress intended the ADA to adapt to changes in technology.”
The Department of Justice weighed in with a Statement of Interest: “Defendant Netflix is a public accommodation that offers its Watch Instantly and other services to the public. As such, Netflix is subject to title III of the ADA, even if it has no physical structure.”
On the NAD website, NAD President Bobbie Beth Scoggins says: “This victory ensures that the ADA will continue to be a powerful force in our rapidly changing lives, protecting our right to equal access on the Internet. Netflix’s flat-out refusal to fully serve our community simply because it is an Internet-based business is unacceptable. Leaving millions of deaf and hard of hearing consumers without equal access is not an option.”
But, it’s not over. This decision likely will be appealed, and it may wend its way all the way to the Supreme Court.
The accessibility requirements are here to stay; the argument that website accessibility is an ADA requirement just moved well forward with Judge Posner’s ruling and the DOJ statement. Now is the time to consider accessibility in your projects!
- Disability rights attorney Lainey Feingold’s Netflix blog post
- NAD Federal District Court in Massachusetts First in Country to Hold that the Americans with Disabilities Act Applies to Website-Only Businesses article
- Order of U.S. District Court Judge Michael Ponsor on the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund website
- Statement of Interest submitted in the case by the Department of Justice; the quote above is from page 4
- Boston Globe US judge rules Netflix subject to disability act article
- National Association of the Deaf, et al. v. Netflix, Case No. 3:11-cv-30168