Hearing-Impaired Fans Sue for Access to Closed-Captioning

By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The National Association of the Deaf has filed a lawsuit against the Washington Redskins to get team officials to offer closed-captioning for the deaf and hearing-impaired at FedEx Field.

The class-action suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, says the team is in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act for failing to provide captioning during games.

"From the referees calling the game on the field to the great number of TV monitors posted through the stadium, there are no captions and equal access to deaf and hard-of-hearing fans," said Marc P. Charmatz, senior attorney with the National Association for the Deaf Law and Advocacy Center.

The complaint was filed Aug. 31 on behalf of three fans from Maryland who regularly attend home games. It asks the court to order the Redskins and FedEx Field officials to provide and display captioning on scoreboards and video monitors for all announcements, plays and penalties called during the game.

"I am a lifelong die-hard Redskins fan and I love watching the Redskins play at FedEx Field," Shane Feldman of Silver Spring said in a statement. "But I miss out on the total game experience because I cannot hear the information announced on the public address system. Providing captioning is not rocket science; it is simple, and it is the right thing to do."

Washington Redskins spokesman Karl Swanson said the organization has been working with Feldman "because this is a problem that every stadium has."

According to Joseph B. Espo, a professor at the University of Maryland Law School who is also involved in the case, a growing number of universities are captioning games on their stadium JumboTrons.

In June 2003, Feldman contacted Todd Boyan, vice president of operations for the Redskins, about captioning, according to court documents. Swanson said that the Redskins considered a proposal to purchase captioning equipment from a Colorado firm but that it was rejected by Feldman.

Feldman was concerned about the equipment because there would be a possible 10-minute delay, Charmatz said. He added that the Redskins never made a firm offer and that after discussions broke off, Feldman decided to take legal action.

Swanson said the Redskins are still looking for other options even though NFL teams are not required by law to offer closed-captioning in the stadium. One alternative would be to provide deaf and hearing-impaired fans with seven-inch televisions, which would pick up captioning in the stadium.

He added that all emergency information is posted on the large screens and on TV monitors throughout the stadium.

But Paul Singleton of Bethesda said that's not enough.

"I have been a Redskins season ticketholder for six years," said Singleton, who joined Feldman and Brian M. Kelly of Arnold in the lawsuit. "When a player gets ejected, I have no idea why. . . . When I'm hungry and want to grab a hot dog at the concession stand, I stand in line and cannot hear the TV next to the stands because it is not captioned.

"If the University of Texas Longhorns can show captions on their JumboTron TV, then the FedEx stadium can, too," he said.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company