Hello, this is my first ever blog, on any topic, so I’ll start by briefly introducing myself. My name is Matthew Palmer and I am 32 years old. This blog concerns my partner who is hard of hearing. She has reduced hearing in both ears.

One of the ways we relax in the evening, is, like millions of people, watching a bit of TV or a film. So we would get the seven year old into bed, then have a quick look at the Sky TV guide. Now credit to Sky, a lot of their films and programs do contain subtitles, but not always. So I had to get used to a look of embarrassment/anger/frustration on a regular basis.

I took out a LOVEFiLM subscription about three years ago. For those that don’t know how LOVEFiLM works, you pay a set monthly fee, they send you up to three DVD/Blu-ray discs, and you return them when you have watched them, they then send the next rentals in your list.

This was great, and still is.

We have now watched entire series of great shows, with subtitles, and as long as we send the disc back quickly, we always had something to watch. What we didn’t have was choice. If we didn’t fancy watching what we had, there wasn’t much we could do.

Recently, LOVEFiLM’s position in the UK has come under threat from Netflix, a US giant that doesn’t send discs, it streams data over the internet . This interested me, but a quick trial showed that the library was limited, and there were no subtitles except for a tiny selection of foreign films.

I turned my attention to LOVEFiLM. In response to Netflix they began streaming more and more movies and shows, and as a subscriber to the postal package, I could get all this for free.

So I looked at the library, they offer 7,138 movies and TV episodes which was far better than Netflix and then I looked for how to turn on subtitles. It turns out I couldn’t. There is no information on either LOVEFiLM (or Netfix) on how to do so.

I sent an email to LOVEFiLM, asking about subtitles on their streamed data and I got a reply along the lines of:

‘The studios don’t allow us to’ and ‘the technology isn’t available.’

As this was a new service, I thought this was a fair answer, and that LOVEFiLM, owned by Amazon, would soon sort out the legalities and technical issues and we’d be able to get our subtitles with the streamed shows.

Over the next twelve months, I sent the occasional email to LOVEFiLM, just to check on the progress, but instead of an update as to what they were doing and what they had done, I just received the same text book response. Until very recently I accepted this. Not anymore!

So why, after over a year of emailing LOVEFiLM have I decided to write a blog?

Well after receiving the text book reply blaming studios and manufacturers etc AGAIN, I replied asking for an answer from someone senior that wouldn’t give the cut and paste answer, but could actually give me some helpful information. So this is from someone more senior, with more information, and dealing with a customer complaining about receiving a text book answer;

Dear Matthew,

I am writing in response to your recent contact with our customer services department, regarding a query you have with subtitles on our streaming service.

The provision of streaming will require the joint cooperation of multiple parties, particularly LOVEFiLM, the studios who provide the content, and the manufacturer of the device. LOVEFiLM are not entirely responsible for this process, which is why we are unable to provide any reliable timeframe regarding the availability of subtitles.

It is something that we are working towards and will adopt as soon as the facility is available to us. I hope that this can be done as soon as possible.

I hope this fully answers your query. In the meantime, if you have any further questions please do not hesitate to contact us.

My reply to this was immediately that I wanted to turn my question in to an official complaint. To date, I have received no reply from LOVEFiLM regarding my official complaint. However it has only been eight days, but I would have expected at least an acknowledgement by now.

I then also contacted Pesky People, who have been absolutely brilliant. I am looking at using the Equality and Human Rights Commission to start a conciliation hearing, where they have the authority to put a legal obligation on LOVEFiLM to stop them discriminating against hard of hearing people. Now I am not saying that LOVEFiLM have broken any laws, but the Citizens Advice Bureau say this on their website;

‘It’s against the law to discriminate against you because of disability when you buy goods or services. There are rules about what counts as a disability.’

As well as being in touch with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and complaining to LOVEFiLM directly, I have also contacted my local MP. I am hoping that he can put some pressure on LOVEFiLM, maybe a letter from my MP will jump start them in to some sort of action. I don’t know, but I do feel that with pressure from myself, my MP, Pesky People and the Equality and Human Rights Commission sometime soon they will have to listen.

So while I may be banging my head against a brick wall, there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

A judge in the US has, in June 2012 ordered Netflix to begin streaming the data with subtitles following a court case by The National Association of the Deaf (NAD).

The underlying lawsuit alleges that Netflix violates the ADA by failing to provide closed captioning on most of its “Watch Instantly” programming streamed on the Internet, thereby denying equal access to the deaf and hard of hearing community.

Full details of the judgement can be found here: http://www.nad.org/news/2012/6/landmark-precedent-nad-vs-netflix

“The District Court of Massachusetts is the first court in the country to hold that the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) applies to website-only businesses.” …  Netflix argued that the ADA applies only to physical places and therefore could not apply to website-only businesses like Netflix’s “Watch Instantly” streaming service.

The Judge denied the motion stating that it would be “irrational to conclude” that: “places of public accommodation are limited to actual physical structures…In a society in which business is increasingly conducted online, excluding businesses that sell services through the Internet from the ADA would run afoul of the purposes of the ADA and would severely frustrate Congress’s intent that individuals with disabilities fully enjoy the goods, services, privileges and advantages, available indiscriminately to other members of the general public.”

The Equalities Act 2010: I wonder how this judgement will impact on the UK and will it be used to address video on demand services in the UK?

So thank you for everyone for reading this blog. I am waiting for replies from LOVEFiLM, and my MP and I am just beginning to talk to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission so I hope to be able to post a positive update in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, I ask as many people to tweet the link to this blog to @LOVEFiLM and include my twitter account @mediamattp I’ll retweet them all and we can start putting some pressure on LOVEFiLM to do something. Use the hashtag #subtitlesnow