OKLAHOMA CITY — Facing a lawsuit from the deaf community, House lawmakers said Wednesday they plan to provide captioning of their live-streamed proceedings.
Senate officials, meanwhile, said they plan to continue a live-stream of action inside their chamber, too, but they wouldn’t comment on captions, citing the suit filed by the National Association of the Deaf.
The group sued in late October on behalf of Johnny Reininger Jr., of Midwest City, saying lawmakers are violating his federal rights and those of other deaf Oklahomans by refusing to provide text of video and audio proceedings.
“I need to know what is happening in my state in order to be fully informed at the polls and to fulfill my civic responsibilities,” Reininger said in a statement released by the group. The suit was filed against the state, the Senate, the House of Representatives and former leaders of both chambers.
The group did not respond to requests for comment, but its lawsuit says officials have acknowledged their legal requirement to provide captions under the Americans with Disabilities Act. They’ve claimed they cannot afford the expense, according to the lawsuit.
“When our state government refuses to caption their proceedings, they are choosing to exclude deaf people like me from civic life,” Reininger said.
The Americans with Disabilities Act, signed in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush, prohibits discrimination and seeks to ensure opportunity for the disabled, including the ability to participate in government.
In the suit, Reininger said he tries to monitor what’s happening in the Capitol using the Legislature’s live and archived video, but he has trouble following without captions.
He’s asking a federal judge to order the state to provide simultaneous captioning. He’s also seeking unspecified damages and attorneys fees, written policies that prohibit discrimination against the deaf, and training for lawmakers and state employees about the rights of the deaf and hard-of-hearing.
“When a state government chooses to exclude a class of citizens from access to their proceedings, they are standing on dangerous ground,” said Michael Steven Stein, an attorney for Reininger, in a statement.
Newly elected House Speaker Charles McCall said lawmakers plan to bring the House into compliance with the federal law as part of a renovation.
“I believe that we have made it known to all parties that the House of Representatives [is] working to make our chamber, our part of the Capitol building, accessible,” he said.
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.