Must the Internet Be Accessible to People With Disabilities?

A court in Massachusetts last month refused to dismiss a case brought by the National Association of the Deaf against Netflix, claiming that Netflix is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide closed-captioning on all its products, including streaming of broadcasts. Netflix was held to be a place of public accommodation within the meaning of the Act.

Does this strike you as a reasonable result? What would happen in Canada, under our various access statutes, one of the most extensive of which is the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act? Governments tend to have standards about the accessibility of their own publications – certainly the federal and Ontario governments do, but they can’t be alone. That may require them to close-caption their YouTube and other videos.

Do we have standards applicable to broadcasters? To the Internet, or at least to content providers within Canada (and are the jurisdictional issues of interest?) Would standards applicable to the Internet have to be federal rather than provincial? What’s out there? How can it be made to work, if it should (and why should it not?)

For an overview of US law on this topic, including the Netflix case, see William Goren’s blog on the ADA. Canadian sources welcome.


  1. This is a “policy” or more precisely a polical decision, not a legal one in the strictest sense of the word. So why not? Canada being part of the “developed” world is a rich country. Hopefully this is not another case of the law hindering progressive social change.

  2. Netflix has now settled with the plaintiff group and agreed to caption all its movies by 2014. It is also paying the plaintiffs over $750 000 towards legal fees.