Deaf Advocates Suing Univ. of Md. Have Had Success with Other Institutions


WASHINGTON (Oct. 18, 2013)—The lawsuit filed in September by the National Association of the Deaf against the University of Maryland for its lack of amenities for deaf fans at sporting events is just one of many such efforts to ensure hearing-impaired sports enthusiasts can enjoy themselves at stadiums.

Association CEO Howard A. Rosenblum said his organization has successfully sued other athletic organizations over the same issue, including the Washington Redskins, Ohio State University and the University of Kentucky.

The association successfully sued the Washington Redskins in 2011. According to lawsuit documents, the Redskins were required to “provide deaf and hard of hearing fans equal access to the aural information broadcast over the stadium bowl public address system at FedEx Field.”

The University of Maryland lawsuit details complaints brought to the association by Sean Markel and Joseph Innes, two deaf sports patrons who regularly attend Terrapin sporting events at Comcast Center and Byrd Stadium. Markel and Innes filed another complaint against the university on Oct. 16.

“This is an action to enforce the rights of individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing and to ensure full and equal access to the defendant University of Maryland, College Park’s football and basketball games and other programs, services and activities taking place at defendants’ venues and on the University of Maryland athletic department website,” reads the official complaint filed by the association on behalf of Markel and Innes.

Maryland Assistant Vice President of Marketing and Communications Brian Ullman released a statement in response to the first complaint saying the university is committed to making sure Terrapin fans with disabilities can enjoy the school’s sporting events. He said the team already offers closed captioning through a special website that can be displayed on smart phones and tablets.

“We even offer the loan of tablets on game day for those who require one,” he said. “We continue to work to ensure an enjoyable atmosphere for every one of our fans.”

The amended complaint detailed an Oct. 12 incident at Byrd Stadium during a football game against the University of Virginia where Innes and other deaf patrons were unable to receive captions on their devices because of a website malfunction. Fans were unable to get access to captions of any kind during this game.

Other sports facilities in D.C., Maryland and Virginia have a variety of options for the hard of hearing. Camden Yards, which houses the Baltimore Orioles, has listening devices available for fans available at designated fan assistance areas around the stadium, says its website.

The Baltimore Ravens’ website says M&T Bank Stadium is equipped with closed captioning through stadium-provided phones or handsets and also gives fans the option to enable their personal phones to receive closed captioning messages.

The Washington Nationals’ website said the team close captions its games and provides assisted listening devices. Towson University’s athletics website said it has similar equipment available at the ticket office of Johnny Unitas Stadium.

George Mason University’s Patriot Center allows its patrons to order a sign language interpreter or provides assisted listening on a first-come, first-serve basis, said its website.

Ohio State University and the University of Kentucky had little to no accommodations for deaf patrons until the association forced them to improve their services.

The University of Kentucky’s lawsuit was resolved about two years ago, said Jay Blanton, the school’s executive director for public relations.

“We now close caption all announcements, music, lyrics – anything vocalized over our speaker system at football games,” he said.

Kentucky Deputy General Counsel T. Lynn Williamson said that prior to the lawsuit, the university had put in a request for new scoreboards for Commonwealth Stadium that had the ability to digitally display anything said by the football stadium’s announcer.

The new scoreboards were installed and close captioning the announcer’s words by the first football game of the 2012 season, Williamson said.

“Being able to read the announcer’s words through closed captions on the scoreboard has been well received by fans,” he said. “We believe that it has enhanced the average fan’s experience at games.”

Ohio State agreed to improve its services for deaf patrons at Ohio Stadium, Value City Arena at the Jerome Schottenstein Center and St. John Arena in November 2010, according to the official consent decree that settled the lawsuit.

The Buckeyes also agreed to add certain information to the school’s official website, including links to the school’s Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator, a guide on how to access special services for patrons with disabilities who attend Ohio State sporting events and a complaint procedure for fans with disabilities.

Rosenblum said Maryland season ticket holders have been asking the university to provide closed captioning for decades.

“During this time, the University of Maryland spent over $50 million renovating its athletic facilities, but still chose not to provide captioning,” said Rosenblum. “We felt we owed it to these persistent, patient fans and the community at large to ensure they had equal access to Maryland games.”

Rosenblum said the association is open to pursuing litigation against any school that comes to them with complaints similar to those of Markel and Innes.

“It is our hope that other schools will do the right thing and ensure equal communication access for all in their sporting facilities,” he said.

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