How to Improve Accessibility for Deaf Moviegoers

How To Improve Accessibility For Deaf Moviegoers

There’s nothing like an evening filled with movie theater buttery popcorn, reclining seats and drink in hand while watching a movie. It’s a manifestation of all of your sensory details culminating and working together to experience the vision of the screen, the sound of the booming speakers, the smell of the butter imitating through the building, and the taste of your favorite ice cold drink. While watching a movie might constitute as an ordinary activity, over 1 million Americans are deaf or hard of hearing. With this in mind, how do we make movie theaters more inclusive and accessible for deaf and hard of hearing moviegoers?

What are some of the current accessibility options in movie theaters? 

One of the most common auxiliary aids offered by movie theaters is the CaptiView Closed Caption Viewing System. This is a digital device which transmits closed captions on an adjustable screen through a wireless band frequency, allowing the viewer to follow the movie’s dialogue in real-time.

However, too often these CaptiView devices are often in few supply or not fully charged, causing the device to fail in the middle of the movie. This can be extremely frustrating when a viewer’s movie experience is disrupted due to failing device. Recently, a deaf movie goer took to Twitter to discuss his frustration with his experience at an AMC theater. He states, “After 3 times going back and forth with guest services having the device say “doremi CaptiView ready.” On the last time it says ‘battery low.”

Another common issue with real-time closed captioning systems like the CaptiView is how unreliable the captions can be. Often times, the device becomes laggy and makes the movie virtually unwatchable. One such example is deaf actor/activist Nyle DiMarco who recently experienced this when at a screening Black Panther. Ten minutes into the movie, he left because the closed-captioning device he was using skipped lines and scenes and left him feeling “so disabled.” DiMarco then took to Twitter to share his experiences, where many others members of the deaf community shared similar experiences.

Recent technological advancements have been fixated on upgrading the aging accessibility options offered in movie theaters. One new device, Entertainment Access Glasses, projects the captioning onto the lenses so the viewer doesn’t have to look away from the screen. The glasses, which connect wirelessly to the movie’s file, are adjustable allowing proper focal length for each person and they can be used with 3-D movies as well.

However, this option comes with its own faults too. For moviegoers who wear prescription glasses, having to wear two pairs of glasses may not be the most comfortable, nor practical for many situations as the captions tend to blend in with the movie’s colors and are improperly placed across the actors’ faces. However, these glasses are becoming more readily available as theaters in the US are now beginning to offer this option.

What about open captions?

Movie theaters throughout the United States are required to provide closed captioning and audio description for movies in digital format in order to remain compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, the deaf community has remained adamant for open captioning to be displayed in theaters to improve accessibility

Open captions are captions which are displayed over a video, similar to subtitles. For a deaf moviegoer, this would eliminate the laggy captions provided by the CaptiView and keep the attention of the viewer on the movie rather than on the device. However, the most common complaint of open captioning is that draws attention away the on screen action. For those who aren’t used to using captions, this has the possibility to become distracting for the viewer.

What does the law state about accessible theaters?

The 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design states:

“A public accommodation shall take those steps that may be necessary to ensure that no individual with a disability is excluded, denied services, segregated, or otherwise treated differently than other individuals because of the absence of auxiliary aids and services, unless the public accommodation can demonstrate that taking those steps would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodation being offered or would result in an undue burden, significant difficulty, or expense.

Movie theaters throughout the United States are required to provide closed captioning and audio description for movies in digital format in order to remain compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The new ADA legislature states three new requirements to abide by including:

  1. Must possess the necessary equipment at any digital movie screening showing, providing closed captioning and audio description
  2. Notify the public about the availability of the features
  3. Ensure theater staff is trained and ready to assist moviegoers whenever necessary

With these advancements, the deaf community is hopeful for a future with more accessible movie theaters. A blockbuster change stems from Hawaii who passed a law requiring movie theaters to have at least two movie screenings a week with open captioning. The law also requires these theaters to provide an audio description track of any film produced with audio description.

“The law removes communication barriers and provides equal access to persons who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind or have poor vision through reasonable accommodations at movie theaters. It will also help seniors who have trouble hearing, as well as individuals who are learning English as a second language by providing the written dialogue on screen.”

– Hawaii House of Representatives

Final Thoughts

How can we promote inclusive for the deaf community? Understanding the needs of the deaf community is a good start but taking action to improve accessibility options for the deaf and hard of hearing people is more so of an untouched matter. As technology advances, hopefully we will witness the growth and expansion of accessibility options beyond the CaptiView device. Until then, open captioning is a small change for accessible movie theaters as they can greatly improve the movie experience for deaf and hard of hearing moviegoers.

If you or your organization is striving to be more inclusive and compliant, let us know! We provide compliance training guided by Federal Compliance Attorney and nationally recognized federal law expert Bruce Adelson to ensure your organization is compliant with federal regulations regarding accessibility. Additionally, we offer web accessibility consulting to ensure your web site is accessible for all users.

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