OAKLAND, Calif. - As increasing numbers of Americans get their news online, the owner of CNN.com was accused in a lawsuit Wednesday of discriminating against the hard-of-hearing by failing to provide closed captions for videos posted on the Internet.
CNN's refusal to offer computer users the captions it provides to its television audience "excludes Californians who are deaf or hard of hearing from a wealth of critical information regarding current events," said the suit, a proposed class action in Alameda County Superior Court on behalf of the state's hearing-impaired residents.
More than 100,000 Californians are functionally deaf, lawyers said. They said the suit is the first in the nation to seek equal treatment for the deaf from a commercial content provider on the Internet.
"The era of waiting for the 6 o'clock news is over," said plaintiff Daniel Jacob, an information-technology specialist at a counseling agency for the deaf in San Leandro. "I simply want an equal opportunity to view news videos on CNN.com's website at my convenience like most people can."
The refusal of Time Warner, CNN's owner, to offer closed captions is "astounding, given how central the Internet is in today's communication environment," said attorney Anna Levine of Disability Rights Advocates in Berkeley.
CNN declined to comment.
The site is one of the largest sources for online news and gets tens of millions of visits per day. On one single day in March after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, 67 million people viewed the site, the suit said.
CNN.com displays hundreds of short news and information videos at any given time. Some have appeared on television with closed captions available for the hearing-impaired, but they carry no captions online, the suit said.
Instead, the website provides a written text for each video. The suit claims Time Warner is violating California's disability and civil-rights laws. It seeks court orders requiring closed captioning and unspecified damages.