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The Americans with Disabilities Act The Television Decoder Circuitry Act

1990 saw the passage of two powerful pieces of legislation: The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Television Decoder Circuitry Act. As the nation's first and most experienced captioning agency, The Caption Center at WGBH applauds the passage and enactment of these landmark laws and the positive impact they have in the lives of people with disabilities. The Caption Center offers this brief summary to explain how both laws affect you as a caption consumer.

The Americans with Disabilities Act
The ADA is an unprecedented civil rights law which protects disabled people from discrimination in employment, transportation, and public accommodation. Specifically, the ADA requires that businesses and public accommodations take steps to insure that disabled individuals are not excluded from or denied services due to the absence of auxiliary aids. Captions are considered one type of auxiliary aid to make information accessible to deaf and hard-of-hearing persons.

Title III (Public Accommodations & Services) and Title IV (Telecommunications) of the ADA cover the use of captioning:

At Home
While the ADA does not require all television programming to be captioned, all public service announcements produced or funded by the federal government for television must be closed captioned. Public Accommodations Public accommodations, including (but not limited to) hotels, hospitals, bars, convention centers, shopping centers, libraries, museums, day care centers, health spas, and bowling alleys must provide access to the audio portion of programs. Specifically:

  • Hotels and Hospitals Closed captioning must be made available upon request in hotels that provide televisions in five or more guest rooms. Hospitals that provide televisions for patient use must also provide access to closed captions upon request.
  • Movie Theaters While movie theaters are not required to present open-captioned films, other public accommodations which impart verbal information through soundtracks on films, videotapes or slide shows must provide access to this information. Captioning is considered one way of making such information available to deaf and hard-of-hearing persons.

For more information on the ADA and its implications, please contact:

Office on the Americans with Disabilities Act
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
P.O. Box 661198, Washington, DC 20035-6118
(800) 514-0301 V
514-0383 TTY

The National Center for Law and Deafness
Gallaudet University
800 Florida Avenue, NE, Washington, DC 20002
(202) 651-5051 V/TTY

The Television Decoder Circuitry Act
The Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990 states that since July 1, 1993, all television sets with screens 13 inches or larger manufactured for sale in the U.S. must contain built-in closed-caption decoders. In addition to serving as a lifeline for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers, captioning benefits people learning English as a second language and children and adults learning to read. The Caption Center is extremely proud to have played a prominent role in its passage- drafting language for the bill, testifying in its behalf before both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, and assisting in the development of standards for decoder features.

All decoder-equipped TV sets must now meet the standards issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Television manufacturers may also incorporate optional features, such as Text Mode and changeable character colors (see below).

Display Standards for Decoder-Equipped Televisions

  • PlacementNew decoder designs permit captions to appear anywhere on the screen, resulting in more precise positioning of text. (Previously, captions could appear only in the upper- and lower-third of the picture.) This will more clearly indicate who is speaking, and important parts of the picture will be covered less often.
  • Italics Caption-capable televisions must display italicized characters using either a true italics or slanted letters. (Caption agencies often use italics to indicate vital information like sound effects, narrators, and off-screen voices.) Manufacturers may offer other options to denote italics, such as color reversal.
  • Background The FCC requires the use of a black background (as used in some set-top decoders) to guarantee the legibility of caption characters. Manufacturers may offer other background colors as long as black is available at the user's option.
  • Upper- and lower-case letters Beginning January, 1996, new caption-capable TV sets will be required to display both lower- and upper-case letters. Until 1996, certain televisions are only required to display upper-case letters. However, it is anticipated that most televisions will utilize the upper- and lower-case feature.
  • Labelling Manufacturers must specifically label packing boxes and owner's manuals to inform consumers if the set does not support the options of Text Mode (see below), color characters, or lower-case characters.

Optional Features for Decoder-Equipped Televisions
  • Text Mode Text Mode is used to provide information services. Currently, C-SPAN uses Text Mode to publish program listings and information for teachers. ABC-TV also uses it to list their captioned programs. In a few agricultural states, Text Mode delivers information to farmers.
  • Changeable character colors The FCC strongly encourages, but does not require, manufacturers to include the ability to display color characters. Because color capability will cost practically nothing in newer TV designs, it is anticipated that most televisions will incorporate this feature.

Display Capabilities of Current Set-Top Decoders
  • Pacific Lotus: FCC compliant, incorporates all new FCC-mandated caption display features.
  • Teknova: FCC compliant, incorporates all new FCC-mandated caption display features.
  • NCI TeleCaption II, TeleCaption 3000, Telecaption 4000, VR-100: Will continue to work correctly until about 2002, then may malfunction with some captioned programs.

Telecaption adaptors began experiencing minor problems (extra characters, slash marks) in the summer of 1994. This year (1995), the original Telecaption adapter will begin to miss some captions. For more information on captioning and the
Television Decoder Circuitry Act, contact:

The Caption Center at WGBH
125 Western Avenue
Boston, MA 02134
(617) 300-3600 V/TTY
(617) 300-1020 fax

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