Worried that what has happened elsewhere in the nation could happen to them, leaders of two West Volusia cities have canceled live streaming of their city councils at work.
Both DeBary and Orange City have stopped broadcasting city meetings online, at least until they acquire the equipment to add closed-captioning for deaf viewers.
Live meetings will return to the web, officials say, once they have arranged for the addition of the spoken words in printed form for those viewers whose ability to hear is impaired.
In the past five years, lawsuits have been filed against cities and towns across the country by people using the Americans With Disabilities Act to demand the captioning of dialogue spoken in official business.
“The perfect thing is to discontinue streaming until we are in compliance,” DeBary City Attorney Kurt Ardaman told the council.
Passed by the Congress and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990, the ADA is a civil-rights law covering people with disabilities that limit their ability to access public buildings, businesses, parks, restrooms, and other facilities and amenities routinely used by able-bodied patrons.
City Records Manager Eric Frankton said DeBary could purchase equipment that would convert spoken words into text, or contract with a company that would provide a typist who would caption the remarks of speakers during the meetings. The cost of meeting the demands of the law would likely be about $16,000, Frankton advised.
Frankton said the numbers of ADA lawsuits over captioning for the deaf have mushroomed in the past few years. He noted 100 such suits were filed across the nation in 2015, a number that rose to 1,000 last year.
The DeBary City Council Feb. 6 voted unanimously to halt live video streaming until the city can meet the new public-information standard.
Frankton estimated the city may be at least a month away from securing the hardware and software necessary for captioning. At the urging of Council Member Phyllis Butlien, the city will make audio recordings of its council meetings for those who would like to listen to them.
In neighboring Orange City, City Manager Dale Arrington advised the council “stop streaming the audio” of its proceedings to head off ADA lawsuits.
“Bear with us as we wrap our arms around it,” Arrington said Feb. 12. “We really need to evaluate this.”
Arrington also said she and others will seek more information about how to comply with the law and the costs involved.
Orange City only streams the audio of its meetings, without video.
City Attorney William Reischmann said the ADA-based suits are creating a conflict for cities whose leaders want to be transparent, but who now fear putting information and the electronic proceedings on their websites, as those sites may not be user-friendly for the hearing or visually impaired.
“You’ve got an old law and new technology,” Reischmann added. “The ADA was to protect people who couldn’t get into public buildings.”
The decisions of the leaders of DeBary and Orange City come as other cities and the Florida League of Cities seek to deal with the expansion of rights of the disabled under a federal law enacted almost 30 years ago — long before the internet became so widely known and an integral part of contemporary society.
Deltona Mayor Heidi Herzberg said she, too, has thought about how her city will handle live streaming of meetings, and that she may bring the topic up at a future meeting.
DeLand City Manager Michael Pleus is also looking into solutions for his city, which streams audio of meetings online.
Much of DeLand’s website is already accessible to the visually impaired through the use of screen-reader programs, which automatically transcribe text on documents to speech, he said.
A fix for meeting audio could run $50,000 to $60,000, Pleus estimated.
He also lamented the lack of specific rules in the ADA.
“It’s a poor way to implement legislation,” Pleus said.