Hulu Class Action Says Video-Streaming Services Not Accessible to Blind Users

Hulu has been hit with a proposed class action lawsuit alleging the company excludes blind and visually impaired people from its online streaming services.

A coalition of advocacy groups and blind or visually impaired individuals filed the discrimination lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act on Nov. 20 in Massachusetts federal court, specifically stating that Hulu’s exclusion of blind individuals from its online video-streaming services “significantly impairs the blind community’s access not only to entertainment but to the cultural capital that media consumption confers.”

One of the largest online-streaming services in the country, Hulu offers thousands of shows and movies, including original content, to most customers at the click of a mouse. However, Plaintiffs American Council of the Blind (ACB), Bay State Council of the Blind (BSCB), Brian Charlson, and Kim Charlson collectively allege that the company fails to provide audio description – a separate audio track that blind people need in order to access the exclusively visual content of a show or movie – on any content.

Additionally, Hulu fails to make its website and software applications accessible to blind and visually impaired individuals using screen readers – technology that converts the visually displayed content on the screen into audible, synthesized speech or outputs that information on a digital braille display.

“Inaccessible features and screen-reader barriers such as unlabeled and mislabeled elements and inconsistent navigation features on Hulu’s website and applications limit blind and visually impaired individuals’ ability to use Hulu’s video-streaming services.”

The Hulu Disability Access class action lawsuit further points out that Hulu has the technological capability to provide audio description to blind and visually impaired customers but chooses not to provide it, noting that its primary competitor, Netflix, already includes audio description for much of its content.

By failing to make their online-video streaming accessible to blind persons, Hulu is violating basic equal access to services under both state and federal law and is not compliant with the ADA, the lawsuit contends.

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act states ADA states that “no individual shall be discriminated against on the basis on disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person…who operates a place of public accommodation.”

ACB, BSCB, and the Charlsons have asked for a court order that would require Hulu to take steps to provide audio description on all of its streaming video content, to market this availability, and to make its website completely accessible to people with vision disabilities.

The plaintiffs seek to represent a nationwide Class of legally blind individuals who have been deterred from using Hulu’s services as a result of its failure to provide audio description and maintain an accessible website. The class action lawsuit also requests monetary damages, including courts costs.

The plaintiffs are represented by Caitlin Parton and Stanley Eichner of the Disability Law Center Inc. and Rebecca Williford, Sidney Wolinsky, and Meredith Weaver of Disability Rights Advocates.

The Hulu Disability Access Class Action Lawsuit is American Council of the Blind et al, v. Hulu LLC, Case No. 1:17-cv-12285, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

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