Captions on Televisions in Public?
It’s the Law in Washington State

Did you know that in Washington State, televisions in public spaces are required to have captions turned on?

Thanks to efforts by HLAA-WA and other disability advocates, Senate Bill 5027 took effect July 25, 2021. This law applies to these types of businesses:

  • Restaurants
  • Bars
  • Salons and barber shops
  • Hotel lobbies
  • Transportation centers (train stations, airports)
  • Hospital visitor centers
  • Medical offices
  • Waiting rooms in places like vehicle maintenance services

If there’s a television that members of public can watch, and the television has the technology to show captions, the captions must be turned on whenever the television is on. Note that if there are multiple televisions, up to 50% do not have to display captions, but those that don’t display captions must show they are on mute or have no sound. For businesses that sell televisions, at least one television must show captions.

Noncompliance can result in fines of $75 and up to $150.

Why Captions on Televisions Matter

Without captions, people with hearing loss and people who are Deaf may not understand the program or video. This could mean they miss out on vital safety, emergency, medical, or public service information. Or it could mean that some people simply can’t relax and enjoy a program, such as a sporting event, with those around them.

Turning the captions on sends a loud signal that everyone is welcome in your space, regardless of how well they hear. You may never know who you’re helping with this simple, inclusive step.

For More Information on the Public Television Caption Laws

Our friends at the Hearing, Speech, & Deaf Center created this helpful video and this interview with caption advocate Dean Olson and Devin Myers. The DeafFriendly Review also has an outstanding article.

For more details on complying with the law, you can read the State of Washington’s guidance here, or this slide show/PDF here. If you’re a member of the Washington Hospitality Association, you can log in to their website and read their guidelines in their updated HERO (Handbook for Excellent Restaurant Operations).

Questions about the law? Have you found success — or failure — with captions on televisions in public spaces? Let us know in the comments below.

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