Closed Captions: Up in the Air?

Nyle DiMarco made headlines when he became a contestant on the reality competition series, America’s Next Top Model, Cycle 22. Not only is he in the minority, being a male competitor, but he is also the first and only deaf cast member. Since his rise to fame, he’s become an advocate for the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities, even producing his own American Sign Language videos on his social media accounts to teach beginners.

Last week, DiMarco flew American Airlines and tweeted out his frustration with the lack of accessibility during an in-flight movie:

dimarco tweet

Erroneously, American Airlines had this response:

AA tweet

Captions and subtitles are responsive to screen size, similar to the way text on websites are responsive to mobile devices.

Here’s a photo taken demonstrating how captions look on large television screens:

And here’s a screenshot demonstrating how captions appear on the small screen of an iPhone:

In no case would the captions or subtitles cover entire monitors.

American Airlines has since apologized for the initial response and stated they’re looking into the issue further. Unfortunately, the availability of captions and/or subtitling of in-flight entertainment is not yet mandated, but is certainly a civil rights and accessibility issue.

Senator Tom Harkin (D,IA) introduced legislation in 2013 that would require, “domestic and foreign air carriers to ensure that all visually displayed entertainment programming available to flight passengers is accessible to individuals with disabilities, including by making available open captioning (openly displaying text on a shared video monitor), closed captioning (displaying text through an individual video monitor), and video description (audio-narrated descriptions through individual or shared monitors) for individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, or visually impaired, as the case may be.”

Over 50 million deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans rely on closed captioning and subtitles for the understanding and enjoyment of television and movies. With the attention Nyle DiMarco has brought to this issue, along with thousands of other tweets from other advocates and supporters, this legislation may be revisited soon. We’ll be following this closely, so stay tuned for updates.

By Brittany Bender

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