The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed into law 25 years ago in July of 1990. The result of decades of unceasing work by disability advocates, the ADA is one of America’s most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life.
Crucial to those in the video and language industries, the ADA included the deaf and hearing impaired community. In the 90s, the internet was in its infancy, and the state of video was America’s Funniest Home Video (also celebrating its 25th anniversary). Facebook (2004) and YouTube (2005) were at least a decade away. The ADA, of course, only dealt with the existing telecommunications.
Captions and closed captions had been experimented with in the 70s. In fact, Washington’s public television station and current Dotsub customer, WETA, successfully tested the closed captioning system in 1973. Network broadcasting of regular shows with televisions equipped with closed caption decoders began in the 80s.
The disability advocates have continued to work ceaselessly with the ADA and the FCC to expand accessibility to include new technology. The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act expanded the scope of devices that must display captions to all video devices that display video programming transmitted simultaneously with sound, including those that can receive or display programming carried over the Internet.
Today, content service providers, such as broadcasters and cable companies, must provide closed captioning for 100% of all new, non-exempt, English language video programming. The aim is to maintain the pace of accessibility with advances in technology.
The ADA is the model for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Treaty. The Convention was adopted in December 2006 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, and was opened for signature on 30 March 2007. It was met with the highest number of signatories in history to a UN Convention on its opening day. It is the first comprehensive human rights treaty of the 21st century and was enacted in May 2008. Ironically, the U.S. is not a signatory.