Ann Arbor residents who are hearing-impaired may soon be able to enjoy closed captioning in television sets in public areas.

During their first meeting of the year, City Council discussed a new city ordinance mandating that any television set compatible with closed captioning in “places of public accommodation” – such as businesses, schools, and restaurants – must activate the feature to accommodate those residents with hearing loss problems. Television sets unable to provide closed captioning are exempt from the requirement.

The council did not vote on the ordinance this meeting. Westphal said because he is waiting for responses from members of the business community in an A2 Open City Hall survey, he is postponing the vote until the first meeting in February.

Councilmember Kirk Westphal (D-Ward 2), who sponsored the ordinance, said similar measures in Portland, Oregon were implemented last December with only one compliant. Westphal reasoned the process in Ann Arbor should not be complicated to implement if similiar to Portland.

Currently, only meetings of the Commission on Disability Issues are close captioned, according to Westphal.

Mayor Christopher Taylor (D) further clarified the ordinance does not require businesses to fund closed captioning, but rather that it utilizes city funds for closed captioning of city events.

“We have of course here the very important and critical commitment internally to find closed captioning city events,” Taylor said. “(But) we are not by this ordinance requiring that businesses fund closed captioning.”

Although all councilmembers approved of the substance of the ordinance itself, some had questions about its actual implementation. Councilmember Jack Eaton (D-Ward 5) pointed out that not every city meeting can be close captioned because funds are limited.

“What we’re really gonna run into is a budget constraint,” Eaton said. “We probably won’t have any difficulty close captioning council meetings… But thereafter we really have to identify which meetings are most important to close caption.”

Engineering graduate student Michael Benson, who spoke at the public hearing about the ordinance, expressed hope that this new initiative would set a standard of disability accommodation for not only the city but also the University of Michigan.

“Hopefully once this goes through at the city level, the regents at the University will adopt a similar policy for events,” Benson said in an interview. “What the city does here doesn’t command the University to do anything, but hopefully it’ll set an example for them to do the same.”

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