Legislature approves Padden bill to accommodate the hearing-impaired

Today the Senate voted 48-0 to accept simple changes made by the House of Representatives to Sen. Mike Padden’s measure to help people with hearing impairments by increasing the availability of closed captioning on televisions in public places. The bill, which passed the House unanimously earlier this month, now heads to the governor’s desk.

According to Padden, the unanimous support for Senate Bill 5027 highlights how important the issue is for the 20% of Washingtonians who suffer from some level of hearing loss.

“For those who have a hearing impairment, the ability to access critical information during an emergency can be the difference between life or death,” explained Padden, R-Spokane Valley. “The broad bipartisan support this bill received is a great example of lawmakers coming together to find a common-sense solution to help Washingtonians.”

Under SB 5027, a “place of public accommodation,” such as a restaurant or sports bar, would need to show closed captioning on at least one of its public-area televisions capable of doing so. Failing to do so would be considered a violation of the state anti-discrimination law, but violators would be given 30 days to take corrective measures.

Changes made by the House would define the formatting of the closed captioning and provide an exception to the measure to accommodate a request by someone with a vision impairment.

“This measure is not about penalizing anyone, but rather educating our business community about the need to provide all Washingtonians with equal access to, and enjoyment of, public facilities,” explained Padden. “Washington businesses want to do the right thing and will do just that when properly informed, as the law created by this bill will do.”

Padden points out that under his measure, the state Human Rights Commission would be tasked with preparing an educational pamphlet advising employers and employees of their duty and liability. The pamphlet would be made available online, and available for employers to use for training purposes.

“One of the many benefits of this measure is that it will potentially help the state avoid discrimination litigation,” Padden added. “It really does accomplish quite a bit of good.”