Progress in Air Travel Accessibility — Captioning on Flights


The avid reader may recall VITAC’s post from December 2011 about closed captioning for in-flight entertainment systems, provided by companies like Florida based LiveTV. One might expect that the industry would want to follow suit, to keep up with the industry, yet the update available at this time is that…there is no update. Though all broadcast TV content has required captions for years, and some IP-delivered content now must be accessible, too, content delivered in-flight on passenger jets is still inaccessible to Deaf and hard-of-hearing customers.

Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa recently introduced a bill to congress called the “Air Carrier Access Amendments Act” and would require captioning and audio description for in-flight programming. Though the request sounds basic, it has yet to be adopted by most airlines (it should be noted that many airlines do offer this service, though these instances are limited). The bill is an amendment to a 1986 law that prohibits commerical airlines from discriminating against those with physical or mental disabilities. Yet the bill has only a 2% chance of making it out of committee at this time (it is in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee as well as the Health, Education, Pension, and Labor Committee) and a 0% chance of becoming law. Zero percent!

An alternative approach, preferred by captioning advocate Jamie Berke, is to appeal to corporations themselves, rather than government regulation. The smaller size and streamlined processes of a corporate entity allow customers ratheA jet without captioningr than constituents exact change. The next step in the fight for commercial airline traffic, perhaps, is appealing directly to the airlines themselves.

Though the bill is effectively DOA, its message is no less valid! 50 Million Deaf and hard of hearing Americans rely on captioning by companies like VITAC to access television and internet content. They do not receive discount rates on flights because the content is not accessible to them. One hopes that in the future, a bill like this will gather more steam and become law.