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Requirements for Closed Captions in Businesses

Businesses in Boston are required to enable closed captions (CC) on televisions in public areas.

In December 2022, the City of Boston passed an Ordinance Related to Closed Captioning in places of public accommodation. This ordinance requires TVs that are visible in the public areas of your business to have the “closed captions” (CC) feature enabled.

Closed captioning is a service delivered by programming providers that puts text of the dialogue and other audible information on the screen. The signal that creates captions is included with the movie or TV show, and it needs to be decoded in order to be displayed. All televisions manufactured after 1993 are equipped with this decoder. With the onset of cable and satellite set-top boxes, the decoding is often done by those boxes. More recently, streaming service apps provide both the captioning signal and the decoding ability within their service. 

The City passed this ordinance in order to ensure that all customers and patrons of businesses in Boston have equal access to the information that is being broadcast on TVs in public areas. Captions provide access to the audible TV content for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing, older adults with hearing difficulties, people who speak a language other than English, and many others.

Full Ordinance Text

Guidance on Setting Up Closed Captioning

Depending on the program you are broadcasting in your business, you will enable closed captioning either (1) in the streaming app , e.g. Netflix, Hulu, YouTube; (2) through your cable settings, e.g. Xfinity, DirecTV, etc.; or (3) on in your television’s settings. You only have to do it one time. Once captions are enabled, they will remain enabled unless you go in to turn them off. Below are a few links that may be able to help you with the exact steps required for your use.

 

The exact menu depends on the manufacturer. Many have a closed captioning (“CC”) button on the remote for easy access. If it doesn’t, you may need to navigate to your device’s menu or settings. Try the “gear icon” and look for “Accessibility” settings, or check out the following support articles.

If this does not work, you may need to enable captions through the programming provider, aka Cable or Streaming.

Sorenson has compiled directions with screenshots for enabling captions from the following cable and streaming services:

  • Xfinity 
  • Spectrum 
  • Cox 
  • DirecTV 
  • DISH
  • Hulu 
  • Netflix 
  • Amazon Prime
  • Disney+ 
  • YouTube 
  • Roku 
  • Apple TV 
  • Samsung TV Plus

Frequently Asked Questions

FAQs

How do I report a business that is not in compliance?

If you experience a business that does not have closed captioning turned on for their public facing televisions, you can contact the Disabilities Commission by phone (617-635-3682), email (disability@boston.gov), or by completing the form found here. You can also use the TTY number 617-635-5241.

 

You have 30 days from the date on the notice to get in contact with the Disabilities Commission. You can contact the Commission via email at disability@boston.gov, using the Business Response Form here, or by calling 617-635-4997.

 

The Ordinance Related to Closed Captioning in places of public accommodation requires all businesses in the city of Boston to turn on the “closed captioning” (CC) feature of TVs that are viewable by the public in their establishments.

 

This ordinance is in effect now. It was passed unanimously by the Boston City Council on December 7th, 2022, and signed into law by Mayor Michelle Wu on December 9th, 2022.

 

This ordinance was passed in order to ensure that all customers and patrons of businesses in Boston have equal access to the information that is being broadcast on TVs in public areas. It will provide access for those who are Deaf or hard of hearing, older adults with hearing difficulties, people who speak a language other than English, and many others.

 

This ordinance applies to all “places of public accommodation” in the City of Boston. In other words, any business or entity that is open to the public. This includes, but is not limited to, restaurants, bars, gyms, hairdressers, nail salons, libraries, banks, hospitals, and others. However, captions are only required to be turned on if the TV is displayed for the public to watch.

 

Closed captioning (CC) is a service delivered by the TV programming providers, that puts text of the dialogue and other audible information on the screen. The signal is included with the movie or TV show and needs to be decoded in order to be displayed.

All television sets manufactured after 1993 are required to be equipped with a decoder that produces captions. With the onset of cable and satellite set-top boxes, the decoding is often done by those boxes. More recently with streaming services, their apps provide both the captioning signal and the decoding ability within their service.

 

If you have any televisions in your business that are displayed for members of the public to watch, you are required to turn on closed captioning for that TV. Members of the public include, but are not limited to, customers, patrons, clients, patients, and others.

 

No. Closed captioning is a free technology that is built into television broadcasting, cable signals, and streaming services. You are not required to pay for any captioning services.

 

All televisions manufactured after 1993 have closed captioning. If your TV predates 1993 and does not have closed captioning, you are not required to purchase a new TV. However, you are encouraged to do so in order to gain all the benefits of having a more accessible business.

 

By enabling the closed captioning feature, you are making your business more accessible and welcoming to thousands of Boston residents and visitors who may not be able to hear the TV. These customers will now have equal access to the entertainment, news, or other information you are providing, and you will be eliminating a barrier to access that previously required people to ask for captioning to be turned on. It also helps your staff by no longer requiring them to take time from their usual duties to find a remote and try to figure out how to enable captions.

The ordinance does not require translations of captions. Broadcast and cable television generally only offer captions in English, although some support Spanish captions for Spanish language programming. Streaming services increasingly offer both audio and captions tracks in a variety of languages. The purpose of this ordinance is to ensure access to information being provided in audio format for those who may have difficulty hearing it. Therefore, enabling captions in any language that serves that purpose will be considered compliance. 

 

Enabling captions is now a requirement for businesses in the City of Boston with public facing TVs. The City of Boston Disabilities Commission will be working cooperatively with businesses that are not in compliance, to provide resources and information about how to enable closed captions. Any reports of noncompliance will be addressed on an individual basis.

If the City of Boston receives a report that captions are not enabled at a particular business, The Disabilities Commission will reach out with resources. In the case of repeated or egregious noncompliance, the Commission may make a referral to the Mayor’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Licensing (MOCAL) regarding entertainment licenses.

 

Even TVs that are on mute must have closed captioning turned on.

 

Only large public entertainment venues such as theaters and concert halls are exempt from this City ordinance. They are not, however, exempt from any other city, state, or federal requirement to provide reasonable accommodations to persons with disabilities. In addition, no business is required to purchase a TV under this ordinance. Only those with existing public-facing TVs must comply.

 

If you have additional questions, you can contact the Disabilities Commission via email at disability@boston.gov or by calling 617-635-3682.

 

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