ADA Complainants Argue that Zoom Cannot Charge for Video Conference Closed Captioning

Two “hearing-impaired” plaintiffs have filed a nationwide class action complaint against Zoom Video Communications, Inc. for its alleged failure to make its conferencing services Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant. The complaint explains that though Zoom offers closed captioning for a surcharge of $200.00 per hour or more, and permits third-party software companies to integrate a closed captioning service into its software, the only feasible choice for deaf video call participants is lip reading, a drastically inferior option.

The Dec. 18 filing explained that although Zoom already possesses the technology to provide closed captioning, its choice to exact a steep fee for the feature discriminates against hearing-impaired users. As a public accommodation subject to the ADA and state law analogs, the complaint alleges that the defendant unlawfully deprives hearing-impaired individuals of Zoom’s full benefits. Lip reading, the complainants explained, is an “extremely speculative means of communication and no substitute for closed captioning on a video call,” because approximately 40% of spoken sounds are visible on lips, and many of those manifest identically, among other issues.

The complaint also noted that the need for access to Zoom video conferencing is especially pressing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The filing explained that because people with disabilities are perceived to be at greater risk, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that they shelter  in place for the duration of the pandemic, increasing the need for video communication. The plaintiffs noted that, by contrast, Zoom has benefited from the pandemic, citing a surge in growth from 10 million daily users prior to the pandemic to an estimated 300 million daily users now.

The plaintiffs are seeking to certify a nationwide injunctive class, and New York and California subclasses, consisting of legally deaf residents who used the web conferencing service and were denied full and equal access. The complainants asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief, the latter notably compelling Zoom to offer closed captioning free to individuals with hearing-related disabilities. The two subclasses also are seeking damages pursuant to state laws.

The plaintiffs are represented by Nye, Stirling, Hale & Miller, LLP.