New Laws, Technology Helping Bridge Accessibility Gaps

by: David Titmus

A new city law and a police department outreach program are working to close accessibility and communication gaps for members of New York state’s deaf and hard-of-hearing community.

City Adopts New Captioning Law

Rochester, NY, next month will join a handful of other cities across the United States that require businesses with televisions situated in public areas to use closed captioning.

The law, which will take effect on Dec. 19, will affect Rochester businesses, such as bars, restaurants, fitness centers, hospitals waiting rooms, and other places where televisions are set up for public view. Businesses will be required to provide closed captioning during all regular business hours.

The city ordinance includes any establishment located in Rochester where goods, services, accommodations, and amusements of any kind are offered, sold, or available to the general public. Excluded, however, “are institutions, clubs, or places of accommodation that are considered distinctly private.”

The action came in response to citizen requests, as Rochester ranks among cities with the highest per capita population of deaf or hard-of-hearing adults under the age of 65, according to an analysis of U.S. census data by the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. Approximately 3.7 percent of Rochester’s 1.1 million people is deaf or hard of hearing, compared to a 3.5 percent overall national average.

Rochester follows San Francisco, California, Portland, Oregon, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Pawtucket, Rhode Island as municipalities with similar ordinances. Additionally, the state of Maryland also requires that, upon request, places of public accommodation are to keep closed captioning on any  public television in use during regular hours, and the Department of Transportation has an ordinance that requires airports use captions.

Rochester’s ordinance has not yet established any penalties for non-compliance but, by way of comparison, Ann Arbor’s law, established this past summer, has set violations from a minimum fine of $50 to a maximum of up to $500.

NYPD Expands Pilot Program

The New York City Police Department has expanded a pilot program introduced earlier this year that provides deaf and hard-of-hearing residents with more ways to communicate with NYPD officers.

The program equips officers with portable video-conferencing tablets that enables them to connect with on-call, licensed sign language interpreters who can immediately respond if a deaf citizen is stopped by police or comes to an officer with a problem.

Launched in conjunction with the Deaf Justice Coalition, the program’s goal is to better engage New York City’s population of more than 200,000 deaf and hard-of-hearing people and, in the process, help establish stronger connections between police and their communities.

The department rolled out the program in three precincts — the East Village, Queens, and Staten Island — in April. Initial reception from both citizens and officers has been positive, and the program has expanded to four more precincts in the city’s Upper West Side, Harlem, and the Bronx.