Accessibility Lawsuits: Why Supporters Need to Be Careful

Out of the blue, I received multiple messages pointing to an article on TMZ about an accessibility lawsuit. It had a sensationalist headline:

“Peloton Sued: Deaf Folks Need More Guidance!!!”

Before I opened the article, I could feel myself getting riled up for two reasons.

The first being the headline. The second reason comes in the mentioning of a lawsuit involving Peloton.

Infantilism for Clicks

Without reading the article, it sounds like deaf people need guidance. That’s infantilism for the sake of sensationalism. In other words, the headline implies deaf adults are like children who need help.

I know publishers do whatever they can with headlines to compel people to click. But this hurts more than helps people who are deaf. In case you’re not familiar with Peloton, it’s a fitness company that produces hundreds of workout videos. They also sell treadmills and bikes that stream with Peloton’s workout service.

Anyway, the article does not explain what guidance deaf people need.

“The plaintiff claims this makes it ‘impossible’ to comprehend the audio portions of the workout tutorials for deaf Peloton members, so they are not able to enjoy the features of the app as much as people without hearing impairments,” the article says.

Obviously, they’re using “deaf people need guidance” meaning they need coaching from the workouts. But the article doesn’t explain this. Thus, the headline represents the infantilism of the deaf.

Accessibility Lawsuit Implies Workouts Aren’t Captioned

As for the lawsuit against Peloton, a quick scan reveals someone is suing the fitness company for not captioning videos.

The article opens with the following line:

“Listen up, Peloton — you’re excluding deaf people from being able to enjoy your app … at least that’s what’s alleged in a new class-action lawsuit.”

As a paying subscriber, I immediately knew that wasn’t the case. I’ve done over 700 Peloton workouts. Every single one of them was captioned.

However, Peloton’s live workouts are not captioned. So, I give it the benefit of the doubt. I figure someone is suing for the lack of captions in live workouts. I read the short article multiple times. It does not mention live workouts.

Rather, the article sends the message that Peloton does not caption their videos. Soon, I see tweets and posts on social media stating the same.

And this is gross misinformation.

The Truth About Peloton Captions

I’ve been profoundly Deaf since birth. I cannot watch anything without captions. Peloton offered a free trial, so I signed up for it. The app blew me away with its many, many captioned workouts. And high-quality too. I would never pay for a subscription if they didn’t have a huge library of captioned workouts.

That’s why it shocks me to see the TMZ article and lawsuit. As soon as I hear about it, I open the Peloton app and randomly select running. The first thing I always do after choosing an activity is filter for English subtitles. It turns out there are 1,616 captioned videos on running out of 1,671. That means 97 percent of Peloton’s running videos are captioned.

Accessibility lawsuit claims Peloton doesn't caption when 1,616 running classes are captioned
Peloton filters for subtitles showing 1,616 captioned running classes available

Time to try another activity. This time I pick yoga. Out of the 2,133 Peloton yoga classes, a whopping 2,077 have captions. Again, 97 percent of the yoga videos contain captions.

Accessibility lawsuit claims Peloton doesn't caption when 2,077 yoga classes are captioned
Peloton filters for subtitles showing 2,077 captioned yoga classes available

When I looked at the number of captioned cycling videos, the percentage is a bit lower. That’s because the app has years of Peloton videos. The company captions far more now than it did a few years ago. And cycling is the first type of workout it offered.

To test this theory, I look up bike boot camps. This is Peloton’s newest workout activity. Out of the 36 videos, 35 have captions. The lone uncaptioned one is less than 24 hours old. Peloton generally captions new videos within 48 hours. I was looking for Hamilton yoga on the day it aired. It didn’t have captions yet. I checked again two days later and took it because it had captions.

Here’s a table of Peloton videos available and how many are captioned as of December 20, 2020:

ExerciseVideosCaptionedPercentage CC
Running1,6711,61697%
Yoga2,133207797%
Strength1,8681,69591%
Stretching66649074%
Cycling7,4856,73990%
Walking33532998%
Tread Bootcamp64560293%
Bike Bootcamp363597%
Table shows number of Peloton videos and the percentage captioned

Yes, viewers deserve 100 percent captions including on the live videos, but that’s not what the lawsuit claims.

Connect the Watts has a reasonable article about the Peloton lawsuit written by Bradley Chambers. He says the same thing I’ve been saying. He reports Peloton offers close captioning and perhaps the plaintiff is referring to the lack of captions in live videos.

What the Accessibility Lawsuit Document Says

Here’s the document of the class action lawsuit against Peloton [PDF] filed in New York. First, I’m not a lawyer nor do I play one on TV. It shows no mention of live workout videos. It reads like Peloton does not caption anything.

Open Peloton’s app or on the Roku and you’ll see it has a filter for subtitles. I know because I select it every time I do a Peloton workout. Here’s where the document gets interesting:

“6. Despite readily available accessible technology, such as the technology in use at other heavily trafficked mobile applications such as YouTube and Netflix—which make use of closed captioning for hard-of-hearing individuals—Defendant has failed to do the same, thereby denying individuals who are deaf and hard-of-hearing from reasonably accessing audio portions of Defendant’s Peloton App.”

YouTube does not caption videos. It simply provides a platform for people to upload their own videos. Users can caption videos on YouTube‘s editor. In reality, some videos on YouTube are captioned. Some are not captioned. Some are automatically captioned aka autocraptioned.

Again, the document claims the defendant has failed to do the same in offering captions. The thousands of captioned videos it has and a filter for subtitles disprove this.

The document also names three videos the plaintiff claims he attempted to browse and watch:

“Plaintiff similarly experienced lack of captioning with the following Peloton App videos: ‘2 Minute Warm-Up,’ ‘3 Minute Warm-Up,’ and ’10 Minutes Arm Toning,’ among many others.

Do you have any idea how many “10 Minutes Arm Toning” videos there are? LOTS! And that’s looking at the captioned ones.

However, I could not find any called “2 Minute Warm-up or “3 Minute Warm-Up.” The shortest video you can filter for is 5 minutes. Nonetheless, I suspect the plaintiff may have been watching a longer video that begins with a warmup as the following image shows a two-minute warm up for a 10-minute yoga video.

Captioned yoga workout video shows "2 min Warm Up"
Yoga workout video in progress shows 2-min Warm Up

Peloton has a free trial of its app. Of course, I’m going to try the app before I shell out the bucks. I want to know if it’s captioned. If so, I need to know how many videos it captions and whether they’re captioned well. After all, adding captions is only half the formula for amazing captions. The other half is quality.

The Lessons from This Publicized Accessibility Lawsuit

Back to all the people telling me about the TMZ article. A lot of them were social media shares of the TMZ article. A couple of accessibility supporters and influencers also posted about the lawsuit. They screamed that this is wrong and it should be accessible.

I don’t blame anyone. If you read the TMZ article or the lawsuit filing, you think Peloton does not caption any of its videos.

Already, this lawsuit and the TMZ article are hurting Peloton’s brand. If I had not been a Peloton customer, I might’ve believed it too.

After seeing all this, I’ve learned to be careful when an article about an accessibility lawsuit shows up. Don’t take the headline or the lawsuit at face value. Do a little research before dragging the company’s name through the mud.

In my search for captioned workout videos, I’ve come across plenty that don’t have captions or have subpar captions. A Peloton competitor had captions. But its captions did not have a black background. The text kept blending with the light scenes in the video. It was hard to read. And that’s not good when you’re jumping around.

One popular fitness company’s videos only used YouTube’s autocraptions. You need precise captions while working out. It does not take much to get poor guidance from autocraptions.

Communicate with Companies Before Filing an Accessibility Lawsuit

Accessibility is always a work in progress. Do all of my images on this website have the ALT text? No. But all the recent ones do. And I go back and fix the old ones when I can. With more than 90 percent of its videos captioned, Peloton does not deserve this. The fitness company should be lauded for its efforts.

There are companies that have little accessibility. If I come across a video that’s not captioned, I contact the company, not a lawyer. And guess what? Some companies listen and add captions. When a company does not respond, then that’s the time to use tougher tactics. A lawsuit is always a last resort.

To me, this lawsuit damages the credibility of worthy accessibility lawsuits. Other companies seeing this lawsuit may think they don’t have to worry about it. People may see this lawsuit and think they should contact a lawyer the minute they encounter a barrier without a second thought.

A friend called me out for not providing ALT text in the images I had posted on social media. She made an assumption based on a few overlooked images that I had not been entering ALT text. In fact, I had recently upped my ALT text game. She happened to catch a few that fell through the cracks.

Instead of a lawsuit, she sent me a private message. I’m grateful because it has driven me to work harder at it. But the point remains that she could’ve easily assumed I never added ALT text to any of my images. This could have happened with the plaintiff assuming that none of Peloton’s videos have captions. At least, that’s the impression I get in reading the filing.

Accessibility Is a Work in Progress

Like Peloton, I’m a work in progress in creating more accessible content. I make mistakes. I’m human. Let’s all be a little kinder and do a little more delving before taking it to the courts. By the way, Peloton has an accessibility statement and invites you to contact them with ideas and feedback for improving accessibility.

Publications need to do their research before posting and cut it out with sensationalistic headlines. Instead of clicks, they’ve insulted deaf people like me.

Accessibility supporters, keep pushing companies to do better. Also, before an outcry and accusing a company of failing, check out the story. A lawyer does not always do due diligence before filing.

If you want a lawyer’s perspective on this, I recommend Lainey Feingold’s Ethics in the Digital Accessibility Space.

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