Closed Captioning in Places of Public Accommodation

On April 19, 2019, Mayor Jenny Durkan signed the Closed Captioning in Places of Public Accommodation Ordinance that was passed by Seattle City Council on April 15, 2019. This creates a new requirement that closed captioning be turned on when televisions are in places of public accommodation. The Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) will be responsible for enforcing this requirement.

The ordinance also asks SOCR to determine the race and social justice impacts of requiring places of public accommodation to comply with this law, especially immigrant- or refugee-run businesses, or those requiring translation or additional assistance to understand how to comply. The report is due on November 15, 2019, to Seattle City Council.

Seattle's Closed Captioning Ordinance requires that closed captioning be turned on when televisions are in public places. The Federal Communications Commission enforces federal closed captioning protections that can be found here. On July 25, 2021, the Washington State Human Rights Commission began enforcement of closed captioning amendments, located here.

What is closed captioning?

Closed captioning is made up of the words on a television screen that match the words being spoken on a television show. The words can only be seen when the closed captioning is turned on.

Why was this law passed?

About 1 in 5 people have some type of hearing loss in one or both ears. Televisions are found in many places open to the public like waiting rooms, restaurants, coffee shops, and more. Closed captioning benefits those with disabilities, the elderly, and people learning English as a second language.  It also helps everyone learn names and words and understand what's happening on the television when in noisy spaces.

Who is covered by this law?

The law covers businesses that are open to the public where people eat, drink,  see a show, receive services, buy goods, or have fun.

Do I have to turn on the closed captioning?

Yes. If you are a business with a television that can be viewed during regular business hours in a public area , you must turn on the closed captioning. Here are the only exceptions:

  1. You don't have any televisions in a public area
  2. The only television you have cannot display closed captioning
  3. If you are selling different models of televisions that are available for viewing, at least one television for each model must have the closed captioning on.  

When does enforcement of this law begin?

November 15, 2019

Final Administrative Rules

SOCR finalized Administrative Rules for the Closed Captioning in Places of Public Accommodation Ordinance.

For more information:

Frequently Asked Questions

Ordinance 125805

Closed Captioning Presentation

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The Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) works to advance civil rights and end barriers to equity. We enforce laws against illegal discrimination in employment, housing, public places, and contracting within Seattle.