Historic Captioning Agreement with Airlines

Thanks to the NAD and other Advocates: Airlines will provide captioned in-flight entertainment to passengers, increasing accessibility in the air for deaf and hard of hearing passengers.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In April 2016, the Department of Transportation (DOT) established the Advisory Committee on Accessible Air Transportation (ACCESS Advisory Committee) which included disability advocacy organizations, airlines, aircraft manufacturers, and content providers. These committee members were to negotiate among themselves to develop a proposed rule addressing accessible in-flight entertainment and communications, accessible lavatories, and service animals. Zainab Alkebsi, Policy Counsel of the NAD, led as co-chair of the in-flight entertainment and communications work group.

After seven months of negotiations, the committee reached an agreement on ensuring that the same in-flight entertainment that are available to all passengers are also accessible to deaf, hard of hearing, blind, and visually impaired passengers. The committee submitted its recommendations to the Department of Transportation to incorporate in its rulemaking.

  • All new in-flight entertainment systems, whether on newly delivered aircraft or newly-installed on existing aircraft, must be capable of supporting closed captions and audio descriptions as of the effective date of the final rule.
  • If an aircraft has inaccessible seatback in-flight entertainment systems, it must provide an alternative personal entertainment device (PED) with accessible comparable video content. Airlines can do this either through their own PEDs, on which content can be preloaded or streamed wirelessly, or by streaming wirelessly to passengers’ PEDs.
  • Airlines shall request from video content providers that 100% of covered in-flight entertainment content are closed-captioned and audio-described, and shall obtain such covered video content with closed captions and audio descriptions available from the content providers, including edited versions.

Other requirements mandate user-customizable captions, accessible WiFi for blind and visually impaired passengers, information collection and reporting by the airlines, disclosure of accessibility options in advance of travel, and the provision of search filters and identifying icons.  The ACCESS Advisory Committee also agreed to establish an independent task force to develop and submit recommendations on proposed specifications for accessible cabin announcements on text displays on or before November 15, 2017. The NAD will be a representative on this task force.

“Movies have long entertained passengers on airplanes but have been inaccessible to millions of deaf and hard of hearing travelers until now. With this historic agreement, in-flight entertainment and communications will finally be accessible to everyone,” said Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf . The NAD is proud to have been a leader in the regulatory negotiation process and applauds the Department of Transportation for taking steps to mandate increased accessibility in the air where the viewing experience is inclusive for all passengers.


National Association of the Deaf (NAD)

The NAD is the nation’s premier civil rights organization of, by and for deaf and hard of hearing individuals in the United States of America. The NAD represents 48 million Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing.


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