Questions Raised About Green Bay City Council Broadcasts, Closed Captioning

The Green Bay Redevelopment Authority holds its monthly meeting at City Hall on Oct. 10, 2017 in Green Bay, Wis.(Photo: Sarah Kloepping/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)Buy Photo

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GREEN BAY - Officials are examining whether the city of Green Bay is complying with a federal law that requires governments to adequately communicate with people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

At issue: Green Bay airs video recordings of the City Council and its various committees on a cable channel, but it doesn't provide closed captioning for them, Alderman Joe Moore said.

That could pose a problem because the city is likely required under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act to communicate effectively with people who are disabled, according to Mike Wassenaar, president and CEO of the Alliance for Community Media, a nonprofit that promotes civic communication.

The law generally requires local and state governments to provide services to people who have communication disabilities, including those who are deaf or hard of hearing, unless doing so would be too expensive or difficult.

Closed captioning is one of various tools that can be used to meet that mandate, Wassenaar said.

RELATED: Problems plague Brown County's video service

The city's Information Technology department has been working with lawyers on the question, but whether they have come to any conclusions is not publicly known. Information Technology Administrator Mike Hronek referred questions to City Attorney Vanessa Chavez, who did not respond to repeated inquiries from the Press-Gazette on the matter.

Brown County Corporation Counsel David Hemery recently concluded that the ADA requires the county to caption its videos, and he advised that the county stop providing public access to any uncaptioned videos to avoid liability.

People can sue to enforce their rights under the ADA and also can file complaints with the U.S. Department of Justice, which investigates violations of the law.

Brown County plans to remove its videos from the internet by the end of the month, but officials are considering whether to pay for captioning, according to Brian Lueth, public information officer for the county's Department of Administration.

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Moore (Photo: file/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)

In light of the county's action, Moore has suggested that the city lobby for federal legislation that would exempt municipalities from having to caption meetings. He also raised the idea of setting aside $100,000 in the 2018 budget as a contingency fund should the city be fined or sued for violating the law.

“We're going to have to get into compliance or we're going to have stop streaming,” Moore said.

In addition to the cable channel, the city also posts videos of government meetings on YouTube, which has a captioning function, although it's not clear whether it is accurate enough to meet legal standards.

Such uncertainty is not unusual, said Wassenaar, who acknowledged that the ADA and a maze of related federal rules can be complicated.

Instead of ending video coverage of meetings, Wassenaar said local governments should take time to investigate how much it would cost to provide closed captioning services, some of which charge just $1 per hour.

Celestine Jeffreys, chief of staff to Mayor Jim Schmitt, said Wednesday that the city is doing just that.

"We want to make it accessible to the whole community," she said.

Source : http://www.greenbaypressgazette.com/story/news/2017/10/12/questions-raised-green-bay-city-council-broadcasts-closed-captioning/754384001/

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