A proposed class action claims Zoom Video Communications, Inc. has discriminated against deaf individuals by failing to provide closed captions for free.
According to the lawsuit, the video communications provider has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by barring hearing-impaired users from full and equal enjoyment of its services and a meaningful opportunity to benefit from such without paying a surcharge—discrimination the case says is “particularly acute” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“During these unprecedented times, disabled individuals risk losing their jobs, experiencing difficulty acquiring services like health care, and lacking the information they need to stay safe,” the complaint states, arguing that deaf individuals must not be required to pay a surcharge for services available for free to those who can hear.
The plaintiffs, two hearing-impaired individuals who rely on auxiliary aids and services, interpreters, and video remote interpreting (VRI) communication software to “remain as independent as possible,” claim that without paying an extra fee for closed captioning, the only way they can equally use Zoom’s video and web conferencing services is to attempt lip-reading. Per the case, lip-reading or speech reading is “an extremely speculative means of communication” that, in the most conducive circumstances, limits even the most accomplished lip-readers to understanding only four to five words in a 12-word sentence.
The lawsuit alleges that while Zoom already possesses the technology to support closed captioning software, hearing-impaired individuals must purchase a closed captioning service from a third party to integrate into Zoom’s software.
“This is the only tool for Plaintiffs to fully participate in the use of Defendant’s services,” the complaint states, stressing that the costs of such software can run up to $200.00 per hour or higher.
According to the case, Zoom, as a “place of public accommodation,” is bound by the ADA to make its services equally accessible to both hearing and hearing-impaired individuals. By failing to do so, the defendant has deprived deaf and hearing-impaired users of the full benefit of its services and thereby increased “the sense of isolation and stigma” among these individuals.
“Defendant’s discrimination sends a message that it is acceptable for service providers to adopt policies, procedures, and practices that deprive deaf and hearing-impaired individuals of the opportunity to fully participate in its services,” the complaint scathes.
The case stresses that in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, disabled individuals are at an increased risk of severe illness and therefore have a greater need for access to online services to communicate with friends and family, keep their jobs, and access healthcare.
On the other hand, Zoom has “directly benefitted” from the pandemic, the lawsuit says, noting that the defendant has become the leading online video conferencing tool while millions of Americans have been forced to work and learn from home.
Notwithstanding Zoom’s “unprecedented success,” the company has continued requiring hearing-impaired individuals to pay extra for equal access to its services, which directly contradicts the ADA’s requirement that surcharges must not be imposed on disabled individuals for the cost of auxiliary aids, the suit states.
The lawsuit aims to require Zoom to offer a free closed captioning service to individuals with hearing-related disabilities and retain a qualified consultant to help improve the accessibility of Zoom’s services.
The full complaint can be read below.
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