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New City Ordinance Turns on the Captions in Rochester

Rochester, NY

At a meeting on September 19th, the Rochester City Council (New York) approved a new city ordinance that will now require its local businesses to enable the closed captioning feature on televisions displayed to the public. Rochester will join only a few other U.S. cities, such as Portland, Oregon, that require all city businesses to provide this service to its patrons.

The efforts were led by Jonathan Dollhopf, a deaf systems advocate for the Regional Center for Independent Living. Citing the city’s sizable deaf and hard-of-hearing community, Dollhopf brought the issue to the City Council and testified about the importance of accessibility. In a statement, he said “Rochester has the highest deaf population per capita in the nation, so it is important that we have access to communication in the community. Captioning makes information on televisions accessible to deaf people, and with this ordinance our deaf community will now have the same access as everyone else watching TV in public.”

A census on Rochester’s population that identifies as deaf or hard-of-hearing conducted by the American Community Survey can be found here.

The law will go into effect in 90 days. There is no word yet of fines associated with any business caught ignoring the law, but one may expect something comparable to the $500 fine that Portland put in place for its city’s violators. Even without a fine attached, a business may put themselves in the position to receive a discrimination lawsuit for disobeying a human rights code.

Already a requirement in airports nationally, it’s great to see more cities adopt this policy. Many restaurants keep their televisions on mute while music plays throughout the building, so turning on the closed captions helps all viewers better experience the programming.

No matter what city you’re in, if you’re in view of a television at a business that does not have the captioning enabled, help the employee or manager navigate their remote control to turn on that function. There’s a possibility that the proprietors are unaware of the benefits of captions and haven’t realized how simple it can be to turn on.

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