In a call for improvements to accessibility, the National Association for the Deaf (NAD) and the Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) filed a suit against SiriusXM on December 14th, 2021, accusing the broadcasting giant of excluding deaf and hard of hearing individuals from its content by failing to provide captions or transcripts for any of its podcasts. The suit alleges a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and New York laws by denying equal access to podcast content on its platform as well as subsidiaries Pandora and Stitcher.
Specifically, the suit alleges:
“Defendants’ failures to provide transcripts of their podcasts excludes deaf and hard-of-hearing persons from the critical sources of news, entertainment, educational programs, and popular culture that Defendants make available to their hearing customers, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law.”
The lawsuit is demanding an award of compensatory damages, but more pressingly, the suit is an attempt to force SiriusXM to offer podcast transcripts and thus make its content more accessible to all, with the additional requirement that the company also "affirmatively" advertise the transcript option to deaf and hard of hearing people. A lawsuit like this is in its essence a call for SiriusXM and all other platforms to rethink podcast accessibility such that access to this vital cultural and informational content is a guaranteed given and not a hard-to-come-by luxury. Of particular concern to the DAR is the fact that some content creators do make transcripts available elsewhere, but that Sirius does not provide the content themselves, making disabled users work twice as hard to access the content when it would be relatively simple to provide given it already exists.
Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO of NAD, expounds on this idea, saying “Podcasts are the latest form of entertainment, and it is imperative that deaf and hard of hearing people not be left behind. SiriusXM, Stitcher, and Pandora have a duty under federal, state, and city laws to ensure their podcasts are fully accessible.”
SiriusXM is a billion-dollar company with no shortage of resources, and by failing to provide transcripts that service deaf and hard of hearing Americans, they are indeed in essence leaving them behind. And it’s important to note that the deaf and hard of hearing community is no small group that they are effectively ignoring. At close to 40 million Americans, that’s a hefty chunk of the public at large being kept out of the podcasting loop.
The lawsuit targets only SiriusXM and its subsidiary brands Pandora and Stitcher, not other podcasting heavyweights. This may be because Apple and Spotify already offer some amount of captioning or transcription with Spotify promising in May of this year to auto-transcribe some podcasts with the eventual aim to transcribe all podcast content. But the DRA indicated that this may only be the beginning of the push for accessibility in the podcasting platform world and did not rule out the possibility of future similar lawsuits.
In their words
Several plaintiffs from the lawsuit have shared their thoughts on being denied access and what they lose by being excluded from podcast content and information.
Dr. Amber Martin:
“Access to information and entertainment is as interesting and important to deaf and hard-of-hearing people as it is to others. There have been many times when someone told me about something they heard on a podcast, and it sparked my interest, but there was no transcript. It’s disappointing not to be able to participate in the conversations with friends, but especially frustrating to know that I’m locked out of a lot of information I’d like to have.”
“Podcasts are now ubiquitous and serve as a wealth of information to everyone, except the deaf community. We cannot be excluded again and must have full access to knowledge that is already readily available to everyone else.”
“Requesting accommodations is not asking to be given information out of privilege. Having equal access to information, including from podcasts, is a fundamental civil right.”