Game show not covered by ADA

Originally appeared in Silent News, December 2000.

Deaf people sue for access; Judge says no

To get on Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, people must first battle a lengthy series of questions through a web of touch-tone phone commands. For a group of deaf people in the Miami area, this is what frustrates them.

Frank Zavala, a representative with the Miami Center for Independent Living, who has sued Who Wants to be a Millionaire?,  said, “The only way to be on is you have to call and answer questions. But here’s the catch. It’s a voice phone, [and] you can’t use relay nor a TTY. It’s ironic that they close-caption their show, but the deaf/hard of hearing can’t be on.”

The center filed a lawsuit against the show. Michael Lanham, the lawyer representing the center, said in an e-mail, “The basis of this action deals with a person’s mandatory use of a touch-tone phone, coupled with an automated telephone system or device that cannot be utilized by the deaf community (either through the state switch or by a TDD), the upward mobility impaired (cannot use their fingers or cannot push the numbers on a touch-tone phone), and some in the vision-impaired community (cannot see or utilize the phone).”

When asked why he accepted this case, Lanham responded, “Well, first, this process is wrong—it discriminates, and second, it’s treating certain disabled individuals like third-class citizens. And as a lawyer who lives with a disability everyday and who knows and specializes in rights for people with disabilities, I felt I had to try to eliminate a barrier of access, if I could.”

U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is not broad enough to cover the show’s screening process, but he said the show’s goal “should be to encourage participants with disabilities.”

Lanham said, “It’s up to each and every one of us, able or disabled, to exercise our Constitutional rights…to those who disagree and think this action is frivolous, I hope they would understand that some of us, regardless of our disability, want the opportunity to equally compete for the American dream of trying to win a million dollars.”

The game show had a blind contestant on earlier in the year. Zavala said, “You got a blind person on, why not a Deaf person? After all, we’re not dumb.”

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