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Netflix Inc. has agreed to put closed captions on 100 percent of its streaming content within two years to settle a lawsuit filed by the National Association of the Deaf last year. On October 10, the parties in National Association of the Deaf v. Netflix Inc. filed a joint consent decree to resolve the case. Last June, Senior Judge Michael Ponsor of the District of Massachusetts’ Springfield division ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 requires Netflix to provide closed-captioning text for its streaming technology. That ruling helped the plaintiffs achieve a positive settlement, said Arlene Mayerson, directing attorney of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund Inc. in Berkeley, Calif. Early on, the plaintiffs thought 100 percent streaming might have been an impossible goal, she said. “Now that Netflix has agreed to it, we’re hoping the rest of the companies do as well,” Mayerson said. She added that the Internet is a place of public accommodation: “There’s no question that it is a place that disabled people have to be included for the ADA to have meaning in the 21st century.” In a written statement, the association’s chief executive officer, Howard A. Rosenblum, stated, “The National Association of the Deaf congratulates Netflix for committing to 100% captioning, and is thrilled to announce that 48 million deaf and hard of hearing people will be able to fully access Netflix’s Watch Instantly services.” Also in a statement, Netflix chief product officer Neil Hunt said the company has “worked consistently to make the broadest possible selection of titles available to Netflix members who are deaf or hard of hearing and are far and away the industry leader in doing so.” Hunt added, “We are pleased to have reached this agreement and hope it serves as a benchmark for other providers of streaming video entertainment.” In June 2011, the association, the Western Massachusetts Association of the Deaf and Hearing Impaired and Lee Nettles, director of the Stavros Center for Independent Living in Springfield, filed the case. Ponsor temporarily stayed the case that November during rulemaking by the Federal Communications Commission. In the ruling this past June, Ponsor also denied Netflix’s motion for judgment on the pleadings and to certify an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Ponsor also denied Netflix’s motion for judgment on the pleadings and to certify an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Last month, Ponsor put the case on hold because the parties had entered into settlement talks. Lewis, Feinberg, Lee, Renaker & Jackson of Oakland, Calif. and Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen of Boston also represented the plaintiffs. Morrison & Foerster represented Netflix. Sheri Qualters can be contacted at squalters@alm.com.

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