Tacoma bars, restaurants and other venues open to the public soon could face hefty fines if they don’t have closed-captioning permanently activated on their televisions.  The city of Tacoma is implementing a fee structure to boost compliance of closed captioning on TVs in businesses and other public spaces.

Closed captioning is a transcript of dialog of the audio portion of a program that is displayed on either the bottom or top of a TV screen.

Tacoma City Council passed first reading of a Universal Closed Captioning provision on Tuesday. The provision would require operators of bars, restaurants and other public spaces to activate closed captioning on all TV receivers. Those who don’t comply could be fined.

The goal is to “provide communication access to thousands of Tacoma residents who are deaf and hard of hearing and have had limited or no access to televised programming on television sets in public settings such as restaurants, taverns, and medical waiting rooms,” according to city documents.

The new code would require closed captioning on all TVs within an establishment to prevent segregated access. Violations are complaint-based and would result in $100 for the first day, adding $100 each following day up to $500.

If ultimately approved, the ordinance would go into effect March 1, 2020. The city is dedicating $15,000 as part of an education campaign.

The Americans with Disabilities Act already requires closed captioning in establishments with public accommodations, but the law isn’t being enforced, said Todd Holloway, chair of the Tacoma Area Commission on Disabilities (TACOD).

TACOD worked on the enforcement effort for two years. Earlier this year, members requested an enforcement ordinance be put in place. Portland passed a similar ordinance four years ago, and Seattle passed one in April.

Some City Council members were shocked to find that an enforcement system wasn’t already in place.

“It is items just like this that you might not notice that make all the difference in the world,” Council member Catherine Ushka said Tuesday.

An estimated 8,000 people in Tacoma and 35,000 in Pierce County are affected by hearing loss, based on national averages.

Closed captioning is expected to help not just those who are deaf and hard of hearing but also those with learning or sensory disabilities, those who are learning English, and the elderly.

“There is a profound sense of isolation and lack of access for many people who are deaf and hard of hearing in this community, and they are looking for welcoming spaces and they are looking to become visible,” Lucas Smiraldo, a policy analyst for the city, told the City Council on Tuesday. “What our city is saying through this ordinance is that you all belong, you are all visible, and we want to accommodate all of you.”

Tash Hansen-Day, who works for the Hearing, Speech and Deaf Center in Tacoma, works with clients every day who feel isolated in their homes.

“Some people in our community will ask for captions to be turned on, but if you think about asking every single establishment every single day — it’s just not possible,” Hansen-Day told The News Tribune.

“It’s going to improve the quality of life of a lot for a lot of people who live in Tacoma and help reduce isolation.”