ADA vs PEG TV in Brown County

Rules have existed for several years now regarding closed captioning of television, largely enforced through the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA. The implementation fo closed captioning varies wildly, from the careful captioning you will see on network television shows, to amusingly terrible, as you will see on live television in many cases. I occasionally turn on the closed captioning on our local TV News just for the entertainment value of seeing how inaccurate it is. But the ADA rules are causing big problems for one TV provider in Wisconsin.

Community television has generally been considered exempt from the most onerous of these requirements, either because they do not meet the general requirements of ADA captioning, or because they have been considered exempt because the captioning would impose an undue burden.

Recently Brown County has run afoul of the closed captioning laws, although it is not currently clear if this is of their own doing or being imposed by Washington. The county has recently started a television channel which is intended to provide coverage of meetings and other events, as well as to serve as a repository of information about county government. The channel has been somewhat controversial in general and questions have been raised about the continuation of funding, as has often happened with PEG TV stations across the country.  Recently, though, the  Brown County Corporation Counsel David Hemery has decided that the the PEG station is in violation of the ADA, and has requested that they stop broadcasting public meetings, and take down all of the meetings that are currently on the station's web site.  When visiting the site you are now greeted with a pop-up explaining the situation. 

This poses some interesting questions. The corporation counsel has come to a somewhat different conclusion in this regard than most of the community TV stations in the state. This is in itself somewhat surprising, but as with much government legislation, the picture is a little murky and several sets of rules from different agencies apply. This is made a little more complex in the case of Brown County since the station apparently really is part of Brown County, whereas many other stations in Wisconsin are run by non-profit organizations and are partly funded by the city or county to provide broadcasts of public meetings. Many of the ADA laws apply particularly strongly to government organizations.

The larger question is whether the (admitted) importance of providing accessability to people with disabilities should prevent everyone from accessing information on public meetings. The essence of this is that government transparency is going to suffer in Green Bay because there is no funding for the expense of complying with the ADA rules on accessability. These rules need more clarification - I for example am grappling witt this a little on Wis.Community - if we were to be required to close caption all video on the site you would see a lot less video, though in our case it's much clearer that this is not a requirement.

So I ask our readers - what do you think of this?

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Published on

October 13, 2017

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