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EDITORIAL: Milton's live-streaming solution helps nobody

Janesville Gazette - 12/27/2017

Dec. 27--Somewhere in Michigan, somebody is complaining too many government websites are inaccessible for people with hearing and vision disabilities.

Closer to home, in Milton, a school district administration has latched onto this Michigan situation as justification for ending the live streaming of board meetings. The district is concerned the service, which lacks closed captioning for the hearing impaired, violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

But the district's solution simply creates a new problem. It seeks to appease one group of people at the expense of everyone else. Ending live video in itself does nothing to help the hearing impaired, though it hurts people whose physical disabilities prevent them from attending meetings. It also hurts people crunched for time or otherwise unable to get to meetings.

(Thankfully, the district plans to continue recording board meetings and uploading the videos to YouTube, which automatically generates captions.)

Ending the live stream might make more sense if a local resident--or at least someone from Wisconsin--had complained about the caption issue. But the hullabaloo stems from a Michigan resident who hasn't even made a complaint against the Milton School District. Milton officials are reacting to what-if scenarios.

One irony of Milton's decision is the district doesn't have a sign-language interpreter at board meetings, and so it's not like attending a meeting in person somehow overcomes the deficiencies of live streaming. Indeed, few government bodies can afford interpreters, much in the same way Milton cannot afford to hire a stenographer to create real-time closed captioning.

Imagine if the Milton School Board were to close all meetings to the public on grounds that some people for whatever reason couldn't attend or understand the proceedings. It's an absurd proposition, of course. Such a policy would violate open meeting laws, for one thing. So why is ending live streaming under the same rationale any less absurd?

Yes, a school district should be aware of ADA issues and take steps to improve access to its facilities, whether physical or virtual. The disabilities crusader in Michigan filing dozens of complaints is doing good by holding government accountable.

But at the same time, it's impractical to make every nook and cranny of the landscape--including on the internet--ADA compliant. If every aspect of government had to be ADA compliant, governments would have to, for example, close parts of many parks because making every part handicap accessible would be cost prohibitive.

The Milton School District should take seriously complaints for alleged ADA violations, but a complaint hasn't been filed against this district, at least not yet.

In the meantime, it should find a more practical approach to the live-streaming problem, if it's even a problem. Should the district receive a complaint, it should work with that individual and see whether a solution exits that doesn't involve cutting off access for everyone.

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(c)2017 The Janesville Gazette (Janesville, Wis.)

Visit The Janesville Gazette (Janesville, Wis.) at www.gazetteextra.com

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