June 28, 2011 at 4:03 PM ET
The National Association of the Deaf has filed a lawsuit against Netflix because the group contends the online video rental site fails to provide closed captioning for most of its "Watch Instantly" streamed movies and TV programs.
Not doing so, says the organization, is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"We must have equal access to the biggest provider of streamed entertainment," said association president Bobbie Beth Scoggins in a statement. "As Netflix itself acknowledges, streamed video is the future and we must not be left out."
Netflix, contacted for comment by msnbc.com, said the company "has and will continue to add subtitles to the movies and TV shows for members to watch instantly streaming from Netflix. We have communicated our progress in this area directly with the deaf and hard-of-hearing community and publicly on the Netflix blog."
On the blog, Neil Hunt, the company's chief product officer, says that in the U.S., "more than 3,500 TV episodes and movies have subtitles available, representing about 30 percent of viewing. (This is in addition to the subtitles already available 'burned in' to the picture for all non-English content.) More subtitles are being added every week, and we expect to get to 80 percent viewing coverage by the end of 2011 (with similar goals for Canada)."
The National Association of the Deaf is joined in the federal suit, filed June 17, by the Western Massachusetts Association of the Deaf and Hearing-Impaired and a deaf Massachusetts resident.
The lawsuit isn't the only way the groups are trying to get their message across: They've also taken to "social media bombing" Facebook and Twitter to get the word out about the situation, attempting to inundate the social networking sites with postings about the issue in order to draw more attention to it.
"This is a remarkable campaign,” emailed Clara Long of Change.org, an activist website that takes on many issues, including this one. "Deaf and hard-of-hearing activists are working together to directly engage Netflix through a robust advocacy and social media campaign, all while a lawsuit hangs over the company’s head."
So far, the social media bombing "campaign" has attracted more than 1,000 supporters. "Activists hope to rally thousands more from the nation’s 35 million deaf and hard of hearing and their allies," Change.org said in an email.
"There is no excuse for Netflix to fail to provide captions so that deaf and hard of hearing customers have access to the same movies and TV shows as everyone else," said Arlene Mayerson, attorney for the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, one of the law groups representing the plaintiffs.
"Netflix admits that there is no technological issue. For people who are deaf and hard of hearing, captions are like ramps for people who use wheelchairs."