Nationwide Class Action Challenges Hulu’s Discrimination against Blind and Visually Impaired Individuals

BOSTON, Nov. 20, 2017 – A coalition of blind and visually impaired individuals and advocacy groups filed a nationwide class action against Hulu to end the video streaming company’s ongoing exclusion of blind and visually impaired Americans. The lawsuit—filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts—challenges Hulu’s violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Hulu, one of the largest online-streaming services in the country, offers thousands of shows and movies, including award-winning original content, to most customers at the click of a mouse. However, the company fails to provide audio description—a separate audio track that blind and visually impaired people need in order to access the exclusively visual content of a show or movie—for any streaming videos.

Because Hulu fails to include audio description tracks on any of its streaming content, blind and visually impaired individuals cannot independently enjoy Hulu’s video streaming services. Audio description is a separate audio track that, when activated, provides a verbal description of visual elements on screen, especially in scenes with no dialogue. The audio description track plays between pauses in dialogue. Hulu boasts an extensive library of live TV and on-demand movies and series—including its Emmy-award winning original series, “The Handmaid’s Tale”—but currently excludes customers who are blind and visually impaired.

In addition, Hulu’s website and applications are not accessible to blind and visually impaired individuals who use screen readers to navigate the internet. A screen reader is software that converts the visually displayed content on the screen into audible, synthesized speech or outputs that information on a digital braille display.

The American Council of the Blind, Bay State Council of the Blind, and blind individuals brought this action to end Hulu’s discriminatory business practices. Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a national nonprofit legal center, and the Disability Law Center (DLC), Massachusetts’s Protection and Advocacy system, represent these individuals and organizations.

Kim Charlson, President of the American Council of the Blind, said, “Movies and television are pillars of American culture. As delivery of such media transitions to video streaming services, it is critical that these platforms be accessible in order to ensure the inclusion of blind and visually impaired individuals in contemporary society.”

Rebecca Williford, Senior Staff Attorney at DRA, said, “Hulu is owned by a collection of some of the most powerful companies in the entertainment business and is itself one of the nation’s most popular online streaming services. Its utter failure to provide access to individuals who are blind and visually impaired is astonishing.”

“BSCB members have been expressing their concerns about Hulu’s lack of audio description for years now,” said Brian Charlson, President of Bay State Council of the Blind, “and it is time that Hulu join with other industry streaming services out there and meet its obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

“As forms of entertainment evolve, equal access must transition to meet industry innovation. Equal access means the ability to fully use and enjoy all aspects of entertainment, just like everyone else,” said Christine Griffin, Executive Director of DLC.

Plaintiffs do not seek monetary damages, but seek only to achieve equal access to Hulu’s services.

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