Friday, May 6, 2011

Deaf man sues over lack of captions on University of Kentucky football game announcements

From The Associated Press:

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A deaf University of Kentucky football season ticket holder is suing the school, seeking to force the Wildcats to put closed-captioning on the scoreboards at Commonwealth Stadium.

The lawsuit filed May 4 by Charles Mitchell of Lancaster, Ky., is similar to suits brought against Ohio State University and the NFL’s Washington Redskins.

Mitchell, who sued in U.S. District Court in Lexington, is seeking an injunction forcing the university to put captions for all game announcements on the scoreboards of the stadium under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which bars discrimination against people with disabilities.

The lawsuit against Ohio State resulted in a 2010 settlement under which the school will post captions to announcements on the Jumbotron scoreboards. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in March upheld a decision requiring the Redskins to provide captioning.

Laren Knoll, a Columbus, Ohio, attorney representing Mitchell, said having captions available in the stadium before the Wildcats’ home opener on Sept. 11 against Central Michigan would resolve the issue.

“Our ultimate goal is to have the stadium captioning games,” said Columbus, Ohio, attorney Laren Knoll, who represents Mitchell. “Obviously, he’s a big Cats fan.”

University of Kentucky spokesman Jay Blanton declined to comment Thursday, saying the matter was being litigated.

It was not immediately clear how many schools offer closed-captioning on scoreboards at athletic events. The NCAA did not immediately return a message seeking comment Thursday.

In the lawsuit, Mitchell said he sent an e-mail to the University of Kentucky in early March requesting captioning be provided at Commonwealth Stadium for home football games. The school did not respond to his request, Knoll said. Knoll said Kentucky denied at least one other such request from “individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

Mitchell wants captioning displayed for all announcements over the stadium’s public address system, including all plays just after they occur, all penalties called, lyrics to music played and safety and emergency information.

Mitchell is also seeking to require Kentucky to develop written policies and procedures to ensure captioning is provided on its video boards and video monitors.

“We’re happy to work with the University of Kentucky to facilitate this,” Knoll said. “If not, we’ll push forward in court as quickly as we can.”

Knoll said Ohio State’s move to provide closed-captioning for deaf and hard-of-hearing fans is working out well.

“It’s wonderful,” Knoll said. “It’s absolutely wonderful.”

Ohio State Senior Associate Athletics Director Ben Jay said the cost for making the accommodation is $3,000 per football game and $1,000-$1500 for other athletic events. The school captions all public address and play-by-play announcements at the bottom of a large video scoreboard of the football stadium and on television screens in the concourse areas, Jay said.

In the case of the Washington Redskins, the team added closed-captions to the scoreboard at Fed-Ex Field shortly after three people sued in 2006. The lawsuit went forward, however. A federal judge ruled that the team’s failure to put the lyrics of songs played in the stadium on the scoreboard, among other omissions, violated the law.

The appeals court upheld that judgment.

“For plaintiffs to enjoy a game on a level as equal as possible with hearing spectators, they must be able to access, in both the stadium bowl and concourse areas, the game-related information broadcast over the public address system,” the court wrote in an unsigned opinion.