UK will include closed-captioning on stadium screens

Deaf football fan's suit brought change

Associated PressFebruary 16, 2012 

Charles Mitchell won't be able to hear the crowd noise or announcements when he goes to a University of Kentucky football game this fall, but he will be able to track announcements and read the words to My Old Kentucky Home.

Mitchell, a football season-ticket holder from Lancaster who is deaf, and the university have settled a lawsuit over closed-captioning at Commonwealth Stadium. The parties told U.S. District Judge Joseph M. Hood on Tuesday they had reached an agreement.

One of Mitchell's attorneys, Laren Knoll of Columbus, Ohio, told The Associated Press that captions for all public address announcements, including play-by-play and player introductions, should be on the scoreboard and ribbon boards, as well as televisions in the concourse areas when the Wildcats kick off on Sept. 8 against Kent State. Knoll said the practice started late last year, but should be fully implemented by the 2012 season.

"It's a good start," Knoll said. "Hopefully, he feels more included this year."

University of Kentucky spokesman DeWayne Peevy said the school added the captioning when it spent $6.5 million to install new scoreboards and ribbon boards at the stadium last year. Peevy did not have a specific cost for adding closed-captioning to the boards.

"We put it all in together," Peevy said.

Mitchell sued in May seeking to force the Southeastern Conference school to put captions for all game announcements on the scoreboards of the stadium under the Americans With Disabilities Act, which bars discrimination against people with disabilities. The suit was similar to cases brought against Ohio State University of the Big 10 Conference and the NFL's Washington Redskins.

The Kentucky lawsuit arose about a year ago after Mitchell sent an email to the University of Kentucky requesting the school provide captioning at Commonwealth Stadium for home football games.

Knoll said the school didn't respond to that request and denied a similar request from individuals who were deaf or hard of hearing.

The final settlement paperwork hasn't been filed with the court, but is due to Hood by March 2. Knoll said along with announcements, the school will put up the lyrics to My Old Kentucky Home, which is traditionally sung at games, and The Star Spangled Banner.

Marc Charmatz, an attorney with the National Association of the Deaf in Silver Spring, Md., and one of Mitchell's attorneys, said the university's decision opens more accommodations for the deaf and hard of hearing.

"From a national perspective, having the NFL, Big 10 and SEC ... provide equal access, that's a terrific result," Charmatz said.

In the case of the Redskins, the team added closed-captioning to the scoreboard of Fed-Ex Field shortly after three people sued in 2006.

A federal judge ruled that the team's failure to put the lyrics of songs played in the stadium on the scoreboard, among other omissions, violated the law. A federal appeals court upheld that decision last year.

Ohio State spends about $3,000 per football game and $1,000 to $1,500 for other athletic events on the accommodation. The school captions all public address and play-by-play announcements at the bottom of a large video scoreboard of the football stadium and on television screens in the concourse areas.

The Kentucky lawsuit does not address other sports. Knoll said she's hoping schools will add captioning wherever possible to accommodate deaf fans at all sports.

"After Ohio State did this, we're looking for the ripple effect for people to take on this issue on their own," Knoll said.

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