SiriusXM Close to Settlement with National Association of the Deaf Over Transcript Lawsuit 

By: Sarah Roberts
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Nearly two years after podcast and streaming music platform SiriusXM was sued by members of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community for failing to make its podcasts accessible by offering transcripts to audiences, a report suggests that the sides are nearing a settlement.

SiriusXM boats a whopping 34 million subscribers. The platform’s leaders are being tested at allegedly not employing practices to make its content inclusive to audience members with disabilities.

This month, an attorney for SiriusXM asked that the New York judge overseeing the case postpone filing deadlines until January 31, 2024. In that request, the attorney states that the parties are getting close to settling the matter out of court. It’s likely that the settlement terms will include some assurance that the platform will provide certain accessibility accommodations, like transcripts. 

For businesses, content producers and institutions creating audio and video content, the SiriusXM lawsuit should serve as a cautionary tale. Ignoring accessibility can lead to hefty legal costs, bad press and the potential loss of audience members. Here’s background information on the case, an update on where it stands now and how Verbit can help professionals who want to avoid similar litigation. 

a microphone on a desk

NAD’s Claims Against SiriusXM 

In 2021, SiriusXM faced a lawsuit from the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and Disability Rights Advocates for allegedly violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and New York state accessibility laws. According to NAD, by failing to include transcripts of its podcasts, SiriusXM, which boasts more than 34 million subscribers, was excluding audience members who are Deaf or hard of hearing.  

When NAD sued SiriusXM, some noted that they didn’t sue Spotify, another popular streaming platform that also neglected to provide transcripts for much of its content. A spokeswoman for NAD argued that they couldn’t sue every bad actor – at least not all at once.  

Others pointed out that individual podcasts, such as The New York Times, did have transcripts on their websites, although not on the platform. NAD responded that the existence of some transcripts on separate sites prevented people who needed them from enjoying an equitable experience. As a result, there was an additional burden placed on people who are Deaf but wanted to access podcasts. These audience members had to hunt down transcripts on a separate site. According to NAD, this made finding the content “twice as hard” for those who needed transcripts.

NAD also stated that providing transcripts isn’t prohibitively expensive or difficult, especially for large, multimillion, or even billion, dollar corporations like SiriusXM.

NAD’s complaint requested two injunctions, which are judicial orders that either prohibit a party from or compel them to take a certain action. First, NAD requests that SiriusXM provide easy to find transcripts for all their podcasts. Second, they ask that SiriusXM update its website and app to meet WCAG 2.1 standards.

The claim also includes compensatory damages, attorney fees and costs related to filing the lawsuit. In other words, if successful, SiriusXM could face high costs related to the claim. While the ADA only allows plaintiffs to recover attorney fees and costs, NAD also alleged violations of New York State laws that would allow further monetary compensation. As a result, the financial costs for SiriusXM could be even higher than if the case were limited to recovery under the ADA.  

Making a Podcast Accessible 

When a transcript is an accessibility tool, high-quality and accuracy are non-negotiable. For this reason, using free transcription software may not make the cut. Errors can make the content confusing and make it ineffective as a tool for audience members who are Deaf or hard of hearing.

Instead of providing just any transcript, podcast producers can turn to Verbit for professional results. Podcasts from National Public Radio (NPR), The Washington Post and The Howard Stern Show all rely on Verbit’s podcast transcription solution for fully edited, quality transcripts. In the case of audio content, like podcasts, offering these transcripts is one of the easiest steps to take, but it’s far from exhaustive. After all, the SiriusXM lawsuit made an additional claim for relief aimed at the accessibility of the platform and app itself.  

two people recording a podcast

Prioritizing Broader Accessibility from the Start 

Even if business and institutional leaders want to avoid the messy and costly legal battle that inaccessible websites, apps and content can lead to, it’s not always clear how to achieve this. In the digital age, creating websites that meet WCAG level 2.1 standards is a better and more comprehensive approach.

Many governments incorporate WCAG standards into their accessibility legislation. While the ADA currently does not, a proposed update could change that in the near future. Even without the government explicitly setting requirements, turning to the WCAG and meeting its standards will help prevent most claims.

While the full guidelines are lengthy and complex, here are a few of the common accessibility issues that plague websites and may lead to litigation: 

Lack of screen reader accessibility 

Screen readers are a tool that people who are blind use to navigate online content. The device reads aloud the text on the page, as long as the text is compatible. Some common file types, like PDFs, aren’t automatically accessible for screen readers, meaning they create a barrier for those who use this equipment. Websites that don’t work well with screen readers are a common cause of accessibility cases, so it’s important to evaluate a site to check for this issue.  

Missing alt text on important images 

Alt text, or alternative text, explains in words the contents of an image. In some cases, lacking or unhelpful alt text can be particularly problematic. For example, if the image includes a table, graph or other vital context, the alt text should carefully cover the information. 

a man recording a podcast

Bold fonts instead of headers 

Designating section headers with actual H2s or H3s in documents and on websites isn’t just about making the page look nice. People using screen readers use those headings to jump to relevant parts of a webpage. Without proper headers, the text appears as one large block that a person using this tool can’t scan the way others may when trying to find specific sections.  

Poor color contrast 

People with colorblindness may not be able to read content if the text and the background lack contrast. It’s not just a matter of which colors, but how different they are. There are tools that can help check for the right amount of contrast and signal where problems might exist.  

Uncaptioned video content 

Much like podcasts need transcripts, videos must have captions. If a website has video ads or instructions, they must include captions to support viewers who are Deaf or hard of hearing.  

Be Proactive and Partner with Experts in Podcast Accessibility 

Not every professional can also be an accessibility expert. If you’re creating podcasts currently or envisioning investing in podcasting in 2024, reach out to Verbit. We’re happy to share our experience and podcast solutions, including the creation of podcast transcripts, to help support your inclusion and accessibility goals. Podcast transcription can also be incredibly easy to do with key integrations we can help you to set up. Plus, with podcast transcripts helping to make your content more discoverable through search, making them accessible is a win-win for everyone.